Dream Final

2007-12-01 00:00

A FINELY-balanced Telkom Knockout final awaits tonight at Loftus, between a Kaizer Chiefs team with history on its side and a Mamelodi Sundowns combination who have been clearly the strongest side in the country for two years.

Chiefs’ intimidating record in finals of six wins out of six should not count for too much considering that the last time the teams met in the deciding match of a cup competition was in the BP Top 8 in 2001, where Amakhosi won on penalties. Only one player, defender Michael Manzini, survives from that Sundowns side, so the psychological advantage must be somewhat diluted.

Still, the permutations and variables for tonight’s cup final add to the intrigue of Chiefs’ impressive record.

Add the rivalry between Chiefs coach Muhsin Ertugral and Downs’ Gordon Igesund, along with the classic encounters that have preceded this final, the two teams’ stature as being, one, the best-supported in the country and the other the richest, and this must be the final the sponsors were dreaming of.

The needle between Igesund and Ertugral was, on the surface, put behind the coaches at a jocular press conference this week. Still, there can be no disguising the fact that Ertugral succeeded Igesund at Ajax Cape Town at the beginning of last season and promptly set about beating Sundowns four times, including in the season-ending Absa Cup.

Of the two coaches, it is Igesund who has disguised his hand better going into the final, partly because he can — he simply has more options.

Ertugral, apart from who will partner Tinashe Nengomasha in central midfield between Gerald Sibeko and Thabo Mooki, has not too many questions to answer about his starting line-up. The recent return of David Mathebula gives the Chiefs coach a more youthful option to Arthur Zwane on the right, though Mathebula lacks match practise. Siphiwe Tshabalala’s injury concerns on the left, where he struggled through the first 45 minutes against Pirates, might see David Obua preferred.

Apart from that, from goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, through full-backs Jimmy Tau and Onismor Bhasera, the likely central pairing of Cyril Nzama and Fabian McCarthy, and strikers Shaun Bartlett and Mabhudi Khenyeza, Ertugral’s combination almost picks itself. There are arguments for defender Mokete Tsotetsi and striker Kaizer Motaung Junior to start, but these would be a surprise.

In contrast, Igesund’s starting line-up is far less clear to the observer’s eye. The coach purposefully rested three front-line players, while two more were suspended, in his team’s 2-2 league draw against Jomo Cosmos on Monday. All five — Vuyo Mere, Shere Lekgothoane, Brent Carelse, Godfrey Sapula and Lerato Chabangu — are almost certain to have a role to play tonight.

This leaves the coach, who has only Dillon Sheppard on his long-term injury list, with a more than healthy set of selection dilemmas on his hands. Though, despite the smoke and mirrors, Igesund is sure to have had a pretty clear idea this week what his starting line-up will be.

At goalkeeper Brian Baloyi’s excellent form should see him return in place of Calvin Marlin. In defence Mere is a certainty on the right, though who will partner captain Benson Mhlongo in the middle out of Oscar Ntwagae, Mbulelo Mabizela and Michael Manzini is a mystery. Lekgothoane has generally been the first choice on the left, though Ntwagae is another competitive option.

In midfield Esrom Nyandoro in the middle and Josta Dladla on the right are the only definite choices. Much will depend on whether Igesund opts for the 4-5-1 formation utilised by both sides in Sundowns’ 0-0 league draw against Chiefs at King’s Park two weeks ago.

Five in the middle would allow Igesund to accommodate Chilean Jorge Acuna an

d one of Sapula, Carelse or Surprise Moriri along with Nyandoro in the middle. On the left the coach’s options are Carelse, Moriri and Chabangu, though he might opt for the pace of the latter up-front to trouble the immobile McCarthy and Nzama.

Peter Ndlovu scored the winner in the semi-final against Free State Stars and the equaliser against Cosmos coming off the bench, and the veteran Zimbabwean should be reserved as an impact player again tonight. Balancing Sundowns’ awesome player power for Chiefs is the return of midfield hardman and most influential player Nengomasha, who will be relied on to counter the threat of the Downs midfield. “Going into the final without Tinashe would have been unthinkable,” Ertugral said this week.

The contest between two talented teams coached by the country’s two most tactical coaches would seem to be shaded by Sundowns, but in a cup final anything can happen.

•Kickoff: 8 pm — live on SuperSport 3.

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