Too close to call

2010-12-04 00:00

IT seems bizarre that three weeks ago Orlando Pirates were everybody’s favourites in a league Soweto Derby against Kaizer Chiefs, and now Amakhosi are the team being tipped to win tonight’s Telkom Knockout final against the Buccaneers at FNB Stadium.

The World Cup final venue plays host to arguably its most high-profile match since June 11 when the Soweto giants clash in their first cup final meeting since 2006, when Chiefs beat Pirates 5-3 on penalties in the Absa Cup at King’s Park after a 0-0 draw.

Then, unlike this season, the Soweto rivals were not in particularly inspiring form and the final was not as highly anticipated as tonight’s game, where the quality of the iconic venue and a huge crowd will ramp things up even more.

Chiefs, apparently on the evidence of their Knowledge Musona-inspired 3-1 deconstruction of Pirates in a highly attractive and engaging league derby at FNB Stadium three weeks ago, and past history in the Telkom, are now being tipped as favourites.

And Amakhosi have even been, some might say almost foolishly, talking up their chances.

Hogwash. What the last meeting between the teams reinforced, yet again, is that it is impossible to predict a winner in the derby.

The match energises players to such an extent that it can produce inspired performance — as it did for Musona and his team-mates, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Tinashe Nengomasha, three weeks ago. And as it just might for Daine Klate, Ezenwa Otorogu, Andile Jali and Dikgang Mabalane tonight.

Chiefs coach Vladimir Vermezovic has reason to be confident. Players such as Musona, Tshabalala and goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune provide a classy core to his team.

But there is still a suspicion that there just might be a fragility to Vermezovic’s side caused by a lack of depth outside the first team. Chiefs lost 3-2 to newly-promoted Vasco Da Gama at FNB in a league game last weekend, a result that had the coach spewing and threatening to sell players in the January transfer window.

A lapse of concentration ahead of one of the biggest cup finals in years? Or hint that there could be chinks in the armour for Pirates to exploit, as they did when they impressively outclassed Chiefs over two legs in the MTN8 semi-finals earlier this season?

Vermezovic said his side want to defend the title they won with a cup final victory over Ajax Cape Town last year. (Pirates were the losing finalists against Ajax the season previously).

“Maybe we are the favourites for this game but I feel no pressure and I want the players to enjoy this game,” the coach said in a pre-match press conference.

“Chiefs have already won 12 of 15 of these cup finals they played in,” the Chiefs coach said referring to his side’s performance in the Telkom since 1984, before he quipped, “and 13 is my lucky number.”

The Serbian’s counterpart at Pirates, Dutchman Ruud Krol, said his aim has been to get his players’ minds off their previous defeat against Chiefs, though Bucs do need to improve on the key mistakes they made.

“We made a lot of mistakes in our last game and our decision-making was not the way I would have liked,” Krol said.

One player who will be out to redeem himself for errors committed in that game will be Pirates captain Lucky Lekgwathi, whose defensive slips played a role in two of Chiefs’ goals.

“Our loss to Chiefs in the league is water under the bridge,” the Bucs skipper said. “It’s very important for us as a club to make sure that we lift our second trophy of the season.”

ON TV TONIGHT

8.15 pm – live on SABC1 and SuperSport 4

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