They’re no pushovers

2010-11-06 00:00

ON paper it should be a mismatch. Mamelodi Sundowns, the opponents to Maritzburg United in tomorrow’s Telkom Knockout quarter-final at Harry Gwala Stadium, are on top of the league table, and in compelling form.

The country’s richest football club boast arguably the strongest squad in the Premier Soccer League. When Sundowns flex their considerable player muscle they are very hard to stop.

As United will well know, having suffered nine defeats out of nine against the Brazilians in league and cup games.

Maritzburg, in turn, have had a patchy start to the season and are in 14th place in the league.

Nonetheless, there has been quiet confidence in the United camp in the build-up to this cup quarter-final.

United have been growing in self-belief since notching up that all-important first win of the season with their 1-0 league victory against Moroka Swallows three weeks ago.

There is a feeling in the PMB team that this could be the best collection of players assembled yet by the club, albeit one that has a number of inexperienced youngsters as back-up to the first team core.

That is why United are hoping for a more competitive showing against a team they have conceded 23 goals to, and only scored five against, and to at least run Sundowns close.

The crowd could be a factor. The last time the Brazilians brought their stars to Pietermaritzburg, a sellout 9 500 crowd packed Woodburn Stadium, and perhaps 70% of the support was for the home team.

United, though, missed out on an excellent marketing opportunity with a weak 5-1 defeat.

It’s not certain whether the larger capacity Harry Gwala Stadium will draw a sellout 11 500 crowd tomorrow, especially at double the ticket price, but if United can again get the majority of the support, it will help fire up the home team.

United have tightened up a leaky defence in their last three unbeaten matches — the win against Swallows, 2-1 away defeat of Bloemfontein Celtic in the Telkom first round and 0-0 league draw away to Platinum Stars last weekend.

The Maritzburg coaching staff say this is because the team are stepping up now when not in possession, and breaking up attacks from the frontline and midfield to prevent build-ups.

“We’ve changed a bit in a sense where we don’t allow the opposition too much time on the ball,” assistant coach Salie Adams said.

“And that putting pressure on the ball gives our defenders a lot more time to organise and position themselves in a better way.”

Maritzburg midfielder Kurt Lentjies has been denied the chance of facing his old team as he continues to be rested from a hamstring injury.

He is joined on the sidelines by playmaker Musa Nyatama, who is prevented from playing against the side he will join next season by his contractual agreement.

“Guys like Musa and Kurt are obviously very crucial in games like this because they’ve got the temperament, the ability and the skill,” Adams admitted.

“It might be a setback, but we’re also very confident in the players we do have available.

“We’ve got a lot of options for Nyatama’s playmaker position — we can play Fadlu [Davids] there, Rudolf Bester or JB Ncubeni. We just need to make sure that we see the players in the right frame of mind for the game.”

Sundowns are without injured Katlego Mphela, but new Zimbabwean signing Nyasha Mushekwi has scored two goals in two games in the Bafana Bafana star’s absence.

And with players of the calibre of Surprise Moriri, Mabhuti Khenyeza, Lebohang Mokoena, Elias Pelembe, Matthew Pattison and Esrom Nyandoro, there’s no lack of creative or goal-scoring cover for the Brazilians.

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