Title race fills stands at FNB

2011-02-26 00:00

JOHANNESBURG — The highlight of the South African football calendar has an added dimension today with Orlando Pirates first and Kaizer Chiefs second in the league title race ahead of the Soweto derby at FNB Stadium.

In pursuit of a R10 million first prize, Pirates have 45 points in hand with nine rounds left, followed by Chiefs and Ajax Cape Town (43 each) and Mamelodi Sundowns (38).

This sets the scene for a thrilling climax, with the only certainty being that unfashionable SuperSport United are not going to make it four titles in a row as they lie nearer the bottom of the table than the top.

Local football fans are notorious for waiting until the last minute to buy match tickets, but no one was taking a chance this week and a full house at the 90 000-seat FNB Stadium in Soweto is guaranteed.

Organisers will be hoping for a well-behaved crowd after a supporter wearing Pirates colours threw porridge at a referee recently, and last October Chiefs were fined when a cabbage was flung onto the pitch.

It is the fifth cup or league meeting this season between Chiefs and Pirates with the first drawn, the second won by the Buccaneers and the last two won by Amakhosi.

Chiefs scored three goals in each of those successes last November and December – a rare occurrence in a fixture that often produces low-scoring stalemates.

The coaches, Serb Vladimir Vermezovic from Chiefs and 1970s Dutch star Ruud Krol from Pirates, were their usual hyper-cautious selves during a much-hyped media build-up, with both talking a lot but revealing nothing.

“I believe in my players and my team and we are full of confidence. Our strength is to score more goals than we concede,” Vermezovic said with a deadpan face.

Krol was equally cautious: “It is going to be a very open game because derbies always are. The league is so unpredictable — you can never say who is going to win a game.”

Apart from having a psychological advantage that stems from a full squad being available and their last two results against Pirates, Chiefs also have a few players capable of shining in big match conditions.

Central midfield pairing Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Tinashe Nengomasha, along with Bafana left-wing Siphiwe Tshabalala, were a large dimension of Chiefs’ two last convincing victories against the Buccaneers.

Tshabalala, especially, is a player who enjoys the big stages, and FNB, where the midfielder scored against Mexico in the World Cup opener, is one of the biggest platforms on which a footballer can display his range of skills.

Chiefs also boast the leading league scorer in 11-goal Knowledge Musona, a 20-year-old with sights on Europe and the latest in a long line of Zimbabweans who travelled south to make a significant impact.

Pirates will lack suspended midfielders Clifford Ngobeni and Tlou Segolela, with the absence of the latter a big blow as he recently scored a goal that is bound to be a contender for best of the 2010-2011 season.

Gaining possession deep in his own half away to Free State Stars, slightly built Segolela slipped effortlessly into overdrive, dodged tackle after tackle with the ball seemingly glued to his boot and pushed it past the goalkeeper.

Another major blow to Pirates is a shoulder injury that rules out goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs for the rest of the season, but the occasionally erratic Senzo Meyiwa insists he is up to the task.

“I chose football as my career and cannot now become nervous or scared when presented with an opportunity like this one,” he said of a derby fixture rated the second biggest in Africa behind the Cairo clashes of Al-Ahly and Zamalek. — Sapa-AFP.


• More PSL, fixtures and standings, page 58

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