Past team inspires Stars

2016-11-23 06:01
Giovanni Solinas

Giovanni Solinas

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In their quest for Telkom Knockout Cup glory, Free State Stars, led by Italian Giovanni Solinas, can surely draw inspiration from the club’s 1994 cup winning crop.

Ea Lla Koto won this championship, previously Coca-Cola due to sponsorship, 22 years ago and it was the club’s first-ever major trophy in the elite division.

Then based in Qwaqwa and known as Qwaqwa Stars, the team saw off two Cape Town clubs, the Cape Town Spurs in the semi-final and Hellenic in the final.

Ea Lla Koto were pitted against Cape Town City in a semi-final to be played in the Cape Town Stadium at 15:00 on Saturday (26/11).

The other semi-final between Orlando Pirates and SuperSport United is to be played at the Mbom­bela Stadium in Mpumalanga at 18:00.

The draw saw Ea Lla Koto on the same path of 1994, memorable with winning the championship after a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Hellenic. History is likely to repeat itself with Stars poised to pull another cup coup this year.

To end 22 years of trophy drought, the Free State outfit is compelled to pull all the stops against gutsy City to reach the third final of the championship.

Ea Lla Koto plotted the 1994 cup coup in the Mother City, where they narrowly beat Spurs by 2-1.

Among the players of that golden generation of Stars were Meshack “Maradona” Tsotetsi, Edward “Magic” Salomane, David “Van Rijn” Vilakazi, John Tlale, Joseph “Professor” Maphu­tse, Bunene Ngaduane, Elvis Manana, Robson Muchichwa and Serame “Rhee” Letsoaka, who was captain. The coach was the late Zimbabwean Peter Nyama.

Ea Lla Koto’s present crop’s character was tested when they beat Kaizer Chiefs in the quarterfinal of a game played on a rain drenched pitch – similar conditions under which the team beat Spurs in the semi-final in 1994 on their way to win the Coca-Cola Cup.

Tlale, who was goalkeeper of the winning generation, highlighted team spirit, self-belief and cohesion as the critical factors of Ea Lla Koto’s 1994 Coca-Cola Cup winning team.

Vilakazi and Tlale concur with each other that history was likely to repeat itself with Stars also playing a semi-final in Cape Town and needing to win to reach the final – and winning it.

“We were a team of character, played to our strength and made goal-scoring a team effort. The current generation of Stars can take a leaf from that team effort and understanding we had. We never gave up easily and conceded goals cheaply. We gave our opponents all the trouble, because we had self-belief, which is equally fundamental for the current crop of Stars,” says Tlale.

Tlale further pointed out that Ea Lla Koto’s wins over Bidvest Wits and Kaizer Chiefs in the preliminary and quarterfinals was a good omen.

Ea Lla Koto demolished Wits by 3-1 in the preliminary stage and marched on to upset favourites Chiefs by winning by 6-5 on penalties in the quarterfinal played in Durban.

The emphatic victory got the Bethlehem-based team closer to ending a trophyless era of 22 years.

“Winning against top-seeded teams like Wits and Chiefs is a great motivation for Stars,” says Tlale, who was part of the Bafana Bafana 1996 African Cup of Nations winning team. He has strongly warned Stars players to guard against complacency in Saturday’s game. There is no replacement for hard work and an effective approach,” says Tlale.

The cup has proven to be something of a good luck charm for Ea Lla Koto, given their impressive run.

After winning it in 1994, Stars came close to winning it again in 1996, but lost by 1-0 in the final to Umthatha Bush Bucks. Stars’ recent concerted effort to lift the cup was in 2012, reaching the semi-final under former coach and player Steve Komphela. However, their dream was crushed by provincial rivals Bloemfontein Celtic, who won by 3-2 and went all the way to clinch the trophy, narrowly beating Mamelodi Sundowns by 1-0 in the final.

Tlale believes Solinas was capable of guiding Stars to second major cup success. This is the club’s second semi-final under the Italian, having first guided Ea Lla Koto to the Nedbank Cup semi-final in May. As things stand, Solinas is on the verge of making history by becoming the second coach after the late Nyama to guide Stars the second major cup.

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