Maritzburg United won’t take Sundowns’ array of stars lightly

2009-10-02 00:00

MARITZBURG United’s confidence is on a high, but they will know not to underestimate star-studded Mamelodi Sundowns in their much-anticipated Premier Soccer League fixture at Woodburn Stadium tonight.

Despite the week’s poor weather, a sell-out crowd is expected and United will take on the under-achieving Pretoria giants in a charged-up atmosphere that will be reminiscent of the fixture where the PMB team hosted Orlando Pirates under lights at a packed Woodburn last season.

The Brazilians have had a slow start under new coach Hristo Stoichkov. But United counterpart Gordon Igesund, while confident of a highly-competitive contest, knows better than to take former team Sundowns lightly.

“Sundowns have the strongest team in the country on paper and the biggest array of big-name players, so we respect them tremendously,” Igesund said yesterday.

“But we have been playing well and my side is very confident at the moment. We’re playing at Woodburn Stadium and the tickets have been selling well, so the ground should be packed, which is very exciting for us.

“In our last home game [against Bloemfontein Celtic] a good crowd turned out, but we had our ’keeper sent off and took a bit of a hiding, which was disappointing for us. Now we want to reward our fans with a good performance — we know it won’t be easy, but we will go out to try and beat Sundowns.”

Bolstering Downs’s already impressive ranks has been an array of quality signings in the off-season, including 2007/08 PSL player of the season Elias Pelembe from SuperSport United.

“Pelembe’s a great signing, but there are so many,” Igesund said. “There’s Mabhudi Khenyeza and Papi Zothwane, Innocent Mdledle and Felix Katongo.

“We don’t even know if Pelembe will start because Sundowns have so many players who can play in that position. And if he does or doesn’t play we’ll have a plan for that.”

United and Sundowns both have two wins from eight games to be in eighth and 10th places, suggesting that past meetings between the teams, where United have taken a few hidings, might not be as relevant tonight.

“I’ve no doubt it will be a close contest,” said Igesund. “We’ve drawn away against Ajax and Wits and beaten Chiefs, so we’re a competitive team.

“We know it won’t be easy, but I think we’ve got a good chance. We’ve had a good week’s training for this match and we’re in great condition.”

Downs’s ever-presents this season have been defenders Siboniso Gaxa and Derrick Spencer, defensive midfielder and captain Esrom Nyandoro and striker Katlego Mphela.

Mphela, the league’s second-top scorer with five goals, has continued his scoring form from his heroic Confederations Cup performance for Bafana Bafana in the third/fourth place play-off against Spain, where he scored a brace, including that free-kick.

Other Confed stars are Gaxa and Matthew Booth, who is reported to be back from injury along with creative midfielder Papi Zothwane.

Wingers Felix Obada and Rudolf Bester have been key to United’s steady start to the season. Striker Fadlu Davids and right-back Peter Petersen will have fresh legs from being rested in the 1-1 draw against Golden Arrows on Saturday.

Brenden Wardle is back from suspension and his greater experience might see him get the nod ahead of Tashrique Goldman.

Midfield passing-master Noah Chivuta has provided the team’s class in the engine room. Captain and warhorse Bageta Dikilu and his defence will be looking to dig a trench in front of the United goal.

Whatever the outcome you can rest assured that, unless you have a hot date with Heidi Klum, there won’t be a better night’s entertainment in KwaZulu-Natal tonight.

Tonight: Maritzburg United v Mamelodi Sundowns (Woodburn Stadium, 8 pm — live on SuperSport 4), Santos v Mpumalanga Black Aces (Coetzenburg Stadium, 8 pm)

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