ONE glance at this week’s fascinating El Classico and you know exactly where you want to see that level of competition, that win-at-all-costs mentality; a combustible derby that drives fans wild, Brazilians nuts... and forces special men like Jose Mourinho to stick his finger in Catalan eyes.
Bring it on at the next Soweto derby, I say. Quite possibly in the MTN8 final if Orlando Pirates see off Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs outgun Ajax Cape Town over the two legs of the semi-finals kicking off this weekend.
When Barcelona edged Real Madrid 3-2 to win the Spanish Super Cup 5-4 on aggregate, the world looked on breathless. Scintillating football, two dynamite goals from the diminutive Lionel Messi, a red card for Marcello for scything down Cesc Fabregas on debut – all bathed in the implacable glow of hatred that erupts when two tribes go to war and football goes to Hollywood.
South Africa’s Premier League can offer exactly that. The parallels are all there. Just like La Liga, the local set-up offers only two real giants – trophy-grabbing Barcelona (Orlando Pirates) and frustrated also-rans Real Madrid (Kaizer Chiefs) with sides like Valencia (Ajax Cape Town), Villarreal (Mamelodi Sundowns) struggling to compete despite a lack of resources and, ultimately, a far smaller fan base.
Like Barcelona, Pirates are the people’s team, with a huge following and three trophies behind them, like Real Madrid, Kaizer Chiefs are the historical favourites who often appear to back by parastatal forces such is the desire for success – but despite vast spending they just can’t get one over on Pirates, as we saw at the recent Carling Black Label Cup Final, where Itumeleng Khune’s penalty gave the Buccaneers victory in a shoot-out.
If you brave the cold night air and gaze at the stars, legend has it you can still see Khune’s penalty orbiting the globe. Or so Irvin Khosa, the Piratical Iron Duke, would have us believe.
But come back to earth. Consider the further parallels between Spain’s La Liga and the Absa Premier. How about the third force? Those separatist Basques at Real Sociedad (Amazulu) and the isolated populist strongholds like Real Mallorca (Bloemfontein Celtic) and Zaragoza (Platinum Stars)... and the also rans in the big cities like Atletico Madrid (Moroka Swallows) and Getafe (Supersports United).
Essentially though, it is all about the two giants. They have the resources, the fan base, the sponsors, to push themselves way beyond the rest. Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs should be contenders for continental domination, they shouldn’t be skirmishing with the also-rans domestically.
With Benni McCarthy (an inflated version of Lionel Messi) back on home soil, the promise of an African Champions League becomes real if Bafana Bafana’s top scorer can just stay fit. Real Madrid fans (and Gary Bailey on Supersport) insist the same is true of Messi and Barca. One injury to the little one and all is lost.
Kaizer Chiefs, with Bernard Parker (a hard-working Cristiano Ronaldo) signed up and Lehlehonolo Majoro (a spikey-haired Kaka) urging them on, can look to the skills of custodian Itumeleng Khune (a superior Iker Casillas) to keep their challenge on line.
Oh, we can dream. Saturday, September 10. The MTN8 final. Forget the Spanish Super Cup, this one’s worth R8million to the winners.
Imagine Siphiwe Tshabalala opens the scoring for Chiefs with a 30-yard cracker reminiscent of his World Cup opening effort against Mexico just over a year ago.
Pirates respond with a flurry of horrific challenge before McCarthy, making his long-awaited first start for the Buccaneers, bending home a 25-yard free-kick with Khune confounded just before half-time.
On the sidelines, Amakhosi boss Vladimir Vermezovic reverts to his Russian roots and sticks his finger firmly in the eye of Bucsalona’s Brazilian boss Julio Leal. In the ensuing riot, Chiefs owner Kaizer Motuang, with General Manager Bobby and player-son Junior in attendance, bashes the Iron Duke with marketing manager and daughter Jessica’s handbag.
Somehow peace is restored. Early in the second half, the resurgent Josta Dladla gets on the end of a Bernard Parker cross to volley brilliantly past Moneeb Josephs, just minutes after being scythed down. Dladla celebrates with blood running down his shins and, amid incredible scenes, Tinashe Nengomasha is red carded for showing an elaborate v-sign to Irvin Khosa in the stands.
Josephs, furious, throws his gloves away and dons an outfielders shirt, determined to make his presence felt.
And Pirates hit back, with Isaac Chansa levelling to complete the Zambian’s comeback from a worrying ankle injury.
It’s all too much. Extra-time looms. And then it’s McCarthy, too fat for West Ham, not fit enough for WC2010, breaking through the middle, he beats too many Chiefs and not enough Indians, and rams the winner into the top corner. Cue pandemonium.
In the zebra stripes, substitutes Mthokozisi Yende and Thomas Sweswe are then sent off as a mass brawl erupts but the jubilant Pirates, looking ahead to an African Champions League victory, ignore the angry Amakhosi fans to dance their victory jig.
The skull and crossbones flies high. The world is tuned in to witness a truly astonishing clash between South Africa’s Sowetan soccer giants. The global audience is unanimous in agreement: what a derby, right up there with Real v Barca, Celtic v Rangers, Man U v Man C. Phew.
Ah, we can dream. In fluent Spanish.
Saturday, 20 August 2011
Kaizer Chiefs vs. Ajax Cape Town 20h15 MTN05
Sunday, 21 August 2011
Orlando Pirates vs. Mamelodi Sundowns 15h00 MTN06
Saturday, 27 August 2011
Ajax Cape Town vs Kaizer Chiefs 20h15 MTN07
Cape Town Stadium
Sunday, 28 August 2011
Mamelodi Sundowns vs. Orlando Pirates 15h00 MTN08