Stage is set for United

2014-05-03 00:00

THE stage is set, the lights and cameras will be on and there is bound to be action aplenty in tonight’s Nedbank Cup semi-final between Maritzburg United and Orlando Pirates at Harry Gwala Stadium in Pietermaritzburg.

By Thursday morning, all 6 000 open stand tickets had been snapped up, and one would expect the other 5 000 grand stand tickets to have gone before this afternoon as the Team of Choice’s modest fortress prepares itself for the biggest night of its season.

When United were hovering dangerously-close to the bottom of the league standings at Christmas after having sacked coach Clinton Larsen, few would have predicted that they would be in the last four of the country’s premier cup competition.

Instead, all attention was placed on surviving relegation. Steve Komphela came on board, and never once entertained any thoughts of dropping down to the first division. The result was a fearless United outfit that has shown the potential to beat the biggest teams in the country.

Just a little over three months after Komphela’s arrival, United have moved up to 11th on the PSL table — mathematically safe from relegation — and they have the opportunity today to advance to their first ever final in a major competition.

To do that they must overcome a Bucs squad that has had an up and down season resulting in a collapsed title challenge and no other silverware.

The Nedbank Cup now represents the last chance this season for the Soweto giants to keep their abundant fans satisfied with a trophy. Where Pirates will arrive with a squad littered with players who know what it is like to play games of this magnitude, United will take to the field tonight with many of the side playing the biggest game of their professional careers.

There is no escaping that United are the underdogs, but as Komphela has said on more than one occasion during his short stay at the club, “The universe favours the underdog”.

United’s captain Michael Morton, though, has been here before. In 2010, Morton won man of the match in Wits’ 3-0 triumph over AmaZulu in what was the first ever game played at the revamped Soccer City ahead of that year’s Fifa World Cup.

“That was probably the greatest footballing day of my life, to be honest, the first trophy that I have won,” Morton, who has signed a pre-contract that will see him join SuperSport United in Pretoria next season, said.

“It was an incredible experience. I have a bit of a liking to the Nedbank Cup so hopefully that will carry on through this semi-final,” Morton added.

In what is set to be a frantic match, United will need all of the experience they can get.

The likes of defenders Ruben Cloete [former Orlando Pirates] and Mario Booysen [former SuperSport United] also know what it takes to win trophies, and their inclusion in United’s back four will go a long way towards keeping United grounded in the opening stages of the clash.

But even Morton can’t hide from the fact that this will be the biggest game of his United career. “I just think of the situation, that we haven’t reached a semi-final since I’ve been here. I don’t think we’ve had a game with so much at stake,” United’s central midfielder said.

“It’s definitely the biggest game I’ve played for Maritzburg so far. Hopefully I can leave the club with a bit of silverware, which would be fantastic.”

Morton, like Komphela, is relishing playing with the underdog tag. “We enjoy it. We don’t have pressure and nobody is expecting us to win,” he said.

“I think that everybody would like a Chiefs, Pirates final and we would like to upset the apple cart a bit and that is our idea for Saturday [today].”

The 25-year-old is a crowd favourite at Harry Gwala, with affectionate chants of “Mlungu” heard in every home match that he plays. This season, he has improved the attacking aspect of his game to compliment his high work rate, strength and ability to break up play.

His range of passing stretches far wider than it did last season, and he has developed into a player that United and Komphela will miss next season.

“I’ve loved my time at Maritzburg,” said Morton. “I have a great relationship with everybody at the club and I will be leaving on very good terms, and hopefully with some silverware.”

Tonight’s match kicks off at 8.15 pm and will be televised on SuperSport Four and SABC.

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