United's big kickoff

2010-09-08 00:00

DESPITE Maritzburg United’s decent record against Kaizer Chiefs, with three wins in four years to the PMB team, Amakhosi’s early form this season suggests the country’s biggest team will be coming to Pietermaritzburg for three points in tonight’s Premier Soccer League game at Harry Gwala Stadium.

Right: Diyo Sibisi (New signing) Striker, Jersey 15, Age 28

Chiefs often have an advantage going into a PSL season in that they always play in a number of pre-season tournaments and high-profile friendlies.

Left: Peter Petersen, Right-back, Jersey 24, Age 29

Given their status as by far the best-supported side in the country, Amakhosi are as much a fixture at the Telkom Charity Cup, which they won in the final on penalties against Orlando Pirates this year, as the seating at the one-day tournament’s traditional venue, FNB Stadium.

Plus, Chiefs are regular participants in their sponsor’s occasional pre-season tournament, the Vodacom Challenge, against some of the biggest-name clubs in world football.

Right: Rudolf Bester, Forward, Jersey 25, Age 27

This season Chiefs have also taken part in the MTN8, beating Bloemfontein Celtic 1-0 in the first round.

Left: Mor Diouf, Central defender, Jersey 4, Age 22

Their four competitive matches (Chiefs also started with a victory in the PSL, 2-0 at home to Golden Arrows) compared to Maritzburg’s one, a rusty 3-2 opening defeat against AmaZulu, could work to Chiefs’ advantage tonight.

On the other hand, United do have one obvious factor in their favour. Amakhosi reaching the semi-finals of the MTN8 could act as a double-edged sword, because it has set up a first-leg clash, to be played on Saturday night at FNB, against arch-rivals Orlando Pirates.

Right: Kulegani Madondo, Defensive midfield, Jersey 26, Age 20

A second derby this season at a packed FNB, and this time in a competitive semi-final, is going to be a prospect the Chiefs players might have a hard time keeping their minds off as they face Maritzburg.

Left: Kurt Lentjies, Left midfield, Jersey 7, Age 25

Let their thoughts wander just a smidgen, and should United put behind them their early-season rustiness and get into a quick-passing rhythm they threatened to produce against AmaZulu only in brief glimpses, it could be game on.

Important for United will be to tighten up a defence that too often went ragged against Usuthu. John Arwuah’s availability, after his work permit came through on Friday, will be crucial to this.

Right: Shu-aib Walters, Goalkeeper, Jersey 1, Age 28

Coach Ernst Middendorp has 2008/09’s club player of the season earmarked as a central defender next to Senegalese Mor Diouf, who impressed against AmaZulu, and the west African pair could make for a potent partnership.

If right-back Peter Petersen returns from his groin strain, United are guaranteed a tougher defence against Amakhosi.

Left: John Arwuah, Central defender/midfielder, Jersey 8, Age 25

“We need an improvement in the defence; we made too many mistakes against AmaZulu, individually and compartmentally,” Middendorp said.

“I think there is a lot of room for improvement from each individual player. I know the players are capable of much more over 90 minutes than they showed against AmaZulu — they showed touches, but not in total over the whole game.”

Right: Fadlu Davids, (Captain) Striker, Jersey 10, Age 29

No matter what sort of defence they come up against, however, if Chiefs’ impressive array of attackers hit their stride they are going to be hard to stop.

Having failed to secure an overseas contract, Siphiwe Tshabalala is the player whom coach Vladimir Vermezovic will build his team around, and the Serbian has plans for Bafana Bafana’s World Cup hero in an intriguing central role.

Left: Elias Ngwepe, Left-back, Jersey 2, Age 32

Zimbabwean striker Knowledge Musona, who returned to training yesterday from international duty for Zimbabwe in the African Nations Cup qualifiers, and young forward Mandla Masango’s return from duty for the SA Under-23s, have boosted Chiefs ahead of the game.

Winger-cum-striker Abia Nale and young playmaker Mthokozisi Yende are two more United will have to keep a steady eye on.

Right: Musa Nyatama, Playmaker, Jersey 6, Age 23

“Chiefs are not a one man-show — we cannot focus only on individuals. We have to be well prepared in each and every position to have a chance,” Middendorp said.

For football fans in Pietermaritzburg, there could have been few better ways to start the season — and put behind them their hangovers from the World Cup — than with a tasty, action-packed night game on Harry Gwala’s beautiful pitch.

As first home games go, they couldn’t have come too much tastier than this one.

Kickoff: 8.30 pm — live on SABC1


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