Who’s got it?

2008-12-12 00:00

THE contrast in styles of the two teams, tremendous rivalry between Cape and Gauteng football and quality of the competition so far have all combined to make tonight’s Telkom Knockout final between Orlando Pirates and Ajax Cape Town at Chatsworth Stadium one of the most-awaited in recent memory.

In what is becoming a memorable Premier Soccer League season, a cup final between two of the most technical, tactical and attacking exponents of carpet football in the league is an appealing prospect.

The final might not reach the heights of attacking football that has seen 41 goals scored in the 14 games played in the previous rounds, with six matches going past the four-goal mark, but it seems sure to be engrossing, tactical and of a high standard of entertainment.

Meetings between the big Gauteng teams don’t always turn out to be the “dream final” they have been billed as — take this season’s MTN8 last match at King’s Park in Durban, where Kaizer Chiefs beat Mamelodi Sundowns on penalties after a disappointing goalless 120 minutes.

But when the slightly more direct Cape sides come up against the more skilful Gauteng teams it can be a recipe for an appealing mix.

The Absa Cup final of 2006/07, also at King’s Park, where Ajax deconstructed Sundowns 2-0, springs to mind. As does the 2000/01 Rothmans Cup final, where Ajax demolished Pirates 4-1 and a group of teenagers — including current left-back Brett Evans, who was on the scoresheet — announced their arrival as a new force in South African football.

That was Ajax’s lone success in the Telkom and, while most memories will have faded over the past eight years, it is sure still to send shivers down the spine of many a Bucs supporter going into tonight’s final.

Ajax have perhaps the best balance between attacking flair, organisation, skill and physical presence of any team in the PSL. Many felt they blew the league last season, giving away a two-goal advantage to draw against Lamontville Golden Arrows when a victory would have sealed the title, rather than SuperSport United winning it.

The loss of about half that team to Europe — including Enoh Eyong, Bryce Moon, Russell Mwafulirwa and Terror Fanteni — was supposed to see Ajax struggle to repeat their runners-up performance, but their 1-0 defeat of Pirates in Saturday’s league dress rehearsal for tonight’s final sees them leading the PSL.

And the Cape side are into a cup final. Clearly their talent production line just keeps churning them out.

Youngsters such as Mkhanyiseli Siwahla and Clifford Ngobeni will be Ajax’s next generation of exports, while right midfielder Sameegh Doutie seems set to follow in the footsteps of Steven Pienaar and become a genuine European star.

Doutie will be Ajax’s playmaker and dangerman tonight though, as coach Craig Rosslee points out, his side also has its share of experience in Evans, winger Franklyn Cale and dangerous strikers Mabhudi Khenyeza and Sifiso Vilakazi. One of the experienced players Ajax will miss is suspended Brazilian defender Eduardo Ferriera.

Unlike Ajax, Pirates have yet to win a Telkom Knockout in the competition’s 16-year existence. Bucs, enjoying a revival under Dutchman Ruud Krol, have added motivation tonight having not won a major cup trophy since their Top 8 success of 2000.

Pirates are the form team going into the final, despite last weekend’s defeat fielding an understrength combination, where Krol rested a number of players on yellow cards. Two of those were striker Gilbert Mushangazhike, who will add punch and physical strength up-front, and the irrepressible Teko Modise, the player from either side most likely to produce a match-winning performance.

Ajax have at times been shaky in defence this season, which will be further affected by the absence of Ferreira. Pirates’ movement in attack has at times been breathtaking. The scribes, educated pundits that they are, might shade Bucs for victory, but that does not factor in the fight and exuberance of the Ajax youngsters.

It’s a tough one to call, other than to say it should be worth watching.

Kickoff: 8.15 pm — live on SuperSport 4 and SABC1

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