Dream final is here

2008-09-19 00:00

EVENTS of the week have overshadowed tonight’s MTN 8 final between Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs at King’s Park, but it is hoped that once the whistle blows for kick-off, the focus will be firmly back on football.

The death of a footballer and two former players have rocked South African football. There will be a minute’s silence tonight for AmaZulu striker Siyabonga Mkhwanazi (27), former Moroka Swallows defender Jacob Lekgetho and ex-Sundowns midfielder Solly Phetla, who all died in the past week.

On a less tragic, though more publicised note, the “war” between Chiefs and Maritzburg United at Chatsworth Stadium on Sunday has dominated the headlines in the build-up to tonight’s cup final.

This has been mainly due to Chiefs coach Muhsin Ertugral’s vehement attacks on United, and particularly their coach, Gordon Igesund, following Amakhosi’s bad-tempered 3-2 defeat.

The focal point was the elbowing by United’s Gary Goldstone of Chiefs striker Tshepo Bulu, for which the defender has been fined and suspended by both club and league.

The suspicion, though, has been that Ertugral’s tantrums were motivated at least partly to deflect attention from his side’s third successive defeat. Chiefs consider themselves league title aspirants, and are desperate to avoid the extended winless runs that cost them heavily last season.

Looking to the action on the field, though, two forwards — José Torrealba for Chiefs and Surprise Moriri for Sundowns — stand out as the most likely match winners.

Torrealba returns from a two-match suspension. The Venezuelan international’s mercurial, intelligent forward play has clearly been missed. The striker’s strength is the space he creates with his clever movement off the ball, while he also scored in the 4-0 quarter-final victory over Santos and 2-0 semi-final first leg win against Moroka Swallows.

Moriri, too, is the man who always produces the goods, and the goals, when the chips are down for the Brazilians. Like Torrealba, the Downs’ striker enjoys dropping deep and being involved in the build-ups, but can also be deadly making late runs into the area.

Around Moriri, Sundowns have such an embarrassment of riches at present that the poser for coach Trott Moloto must have been whom to leave out, rather than whom to include.

Apart from Downs’ dazzling array at forward, just take right-back as an example. Here Siboniso Gaxa, the new signing from SuperSport United who played ahead of Bryce Moon in the Afcon qualifier against Nigeria last week, has kept out former national team regular Vuyo Mere.

At goalkeeper, veteran Brian Baloyi has had the gloves, but former Bafana No. 1 Calvin Marlin is back from long-term injury and also available. In Zimbabwean Esrom Nyandoro and Chilean international Jorge Acuna, Moloto has two of the PSL’s best defensive midfielders to choose from, or he can opt to play the two together.

Then, of course, there are the attackers. Moloto has yet to choose a settled combination up-front, and has alternated Moriri between midfield and striker. The forward is generally best used as a link-man tucking in behind a striker.

Up-front, Moloto’s choices vary between Manqoba Ngwenya, Sibusiso Zuma, Mozambican Dario Monteiro and Lerato Chabangu, who can also play on the left.

Against this awesome line-up, Chiefs must be considered the underdogs, even taking into account the remarkable statistic that Downs have never beaten Amakhosi in a major cup final.

Ertugral agreed with his side’s underdog status this week, pointing to Chiefs’ losing run and battering against United, where Amakhosi gave their best but were still outplayed.

“Yes, this situation [string of losses] is not good at all. It will affect the players when we play Sundowns. Confidence has to be beefed up. I saw many unnecessary mistakes from my players and we really must go back to the drawing board,” the coach said.

The absence of midfield hardman Tinashe Nengomasha is a further setback for Amakhosi. Ordinarily, Ertugral might have brought David Mathebula into central midfield to partner Gert Schalkwyk and Reneilwe Letsholonyane, with Arthur Zwane coming in on the right, but Zwane is carrying an injury and only training lightly.

Gerald Sibeko and veteran Thabo Mooki are Ertugral’s most likely solutions in Nengomasaha’s absence. The coach will also be concerned about the shaky form of ‘keeper Itumeleng Khune.

Despite these concerns, Amakhosi do possess the creative talent, including on-form left wing Siphiwe Tshabalala, to overcome Sundowns.

Much will depend on the link between Schalkwyk and Torrealba, which was the talking point of the beginning of the season. If the two can rekindle their understanding, even Sundowns could find Chiefs hard to stop.

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