Thursday, 17 May 2012

The final countdown: Pirates and Swallows battle it out LIVE on SABC

Pirates booty: will it be V for Victory for Augusto Palacios?
WE can ask only one thing of the Golden Arrows in Durban this Saturday. That they give as much as Queen Park Rangers did in Manchester last Sunday.

The build-up to the final weekend of South African Premier League fixtures holds just as much excitement as it’s English counterpart – enhanced by last night’s announcement from SABC Acting COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng that the two big games will be screen simultaneously on Saturday at 3pm - SABC 1 will show the Golden Arrows vs Orlando Pirates while SABC 2 will televise the Maritzburg United vs Moroka Swallows.

It’s not as if there hasn’t been enough excitement already this week. Roy Hodgson and Pitso Mosimane announced their international squads – how Woy could pick John Terry and not Rio Ferdinand is beyond me – and I was scrambling to get to eNews last night when Kenny Dalglish finally parted company with Liverpool shortly before Jomo Cosmos were officially relegated from the PSL after a 2-2 draw with Black Leopards.

This morning, it’s eTV Sunrise, where I will be refereeing a meeting of PROs – Moroka Swallows and Orlando Pirates will be represented and my old friend Neo Monyetsane wants me to keep the peace before we all get together on Saturday to watch the final showdown in South Africa followed by the monumental match up in Munich: Bayern v Chelsea for the Champions League.

And all this on top of the closes ever finish in the English Premier. History records that drama thus: QPR needed a point to ensure survival in the Premier League. Manchester City came to London needing a win to guarantee their first title since 1968. QPR went behind, then levelled - then they had Joey Barton sent off for elbowing Carlos Tevez.

Even as Barton's ugly departure - featuring further assaults on Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany - was dying down, QPR went 2-1 ahead, leaving City needing two goals to win it.

That Edin Dzeko and the same Aguero produced those two injury-time goals - the clincher came exactly 14 seconds after United thought they had won the title when the final whistle went in Sunderland - will go down as one of the greatest finishes ever recorded to an English season.

And South Africa can look forward to something similar on Saturday as the much-maligned Absa Premiership goes down to the wire in much the same way.

For the Etihad Stadium, read Moses Madhiba. For City read Orlando Pirates. For United at Sunderland, try Moroka Swallows at Maritzburg United. The Buccaneers need a win to confirm a record second successive treble. A draw or a defeat against the Arrows coupled with a Swallows win would take the title to Dube for the first time since the 1960s - a championship drought familiar to those other noisy neighbours, City.

And just as England's Premier was decided for the first time on Sunday by goal difference, a similar prospect looms in KZN on Saturday if Pirates draw and Swallows win. But can the Arrows really threaten to do a QPR and leave the nation on the edge of their seats?

Like the London Hoops, Durban's Arrows are hardly razor-sharp. Founded on the the streets of Lamontville in 1943, they first popped up in the old National Professional Soccer League thirty years later, before relegation in 1976.

The Arrows went back in the quiver after that, reappearing in 1996, when the Madlala family - today the club is run by Mato, the nation's only footballing chairwoman - bought a Second Division franchise called Notokozo FC and named themselves after the old Arrows.

Over the years, Ernst Middendorp, Zoran Filipović , Manqoba Mngqithi, Khabo Zondo and now  Muhsin Ertugral have tried to sharpen things up, but - despite finishing 5th in 2009 - on Saturday they play mostly for pride, standing safely in 12th position on the table.

Ironically, they come up against their own most experienced player ­- Siyabonga Sangweni  played a record 173 games for them as a youngster - when the desperate Sea Robbers come to town on Saturday on the final day of the 2012 season.

It was Sangweni who scored the winner against Bloemfontein Celtic last Saturday as the Pirates produced yet another veteran-inspired come-from-behind 2-1 win. It left the increasingly popular caretaker coach Augusto Palacios cooing: "We still have to win that last game in Durban. Not any other results we will accept. If we draw we are out, it is clear we need to win that game.

"Until we do that, then we can say we are champions, I can't say anything until we play that game against Arrows, which is a difficult game."

Swallows boss Gordon Igesund, threatening to win the title with a record FIFTH club, said at this week’s PSL press conference after his side's 2-1 win over Platinum Stars: "The pressure is all on Pirates going in to Saturday. Nobody expected Swallows to be here. Even if we don’t make it, will have achieved more than anybody expected."

Nobody doubts the Pirates SHOULD win retain their title. I believe they will, despite being the first sports journalist in South Africa to tip Swallows to emerge as shock contenders months ago. Palacios has shown surprising tactical nous and predictable Peruvian passion and deserves to have his caretaker contract extended.

Benni McCarthy and Tokelo Rantie are overdue a goal but the  still troublesome trio of Lucky Lekgwathi, Oupa Manyise and Sangweni have also shown an ability to score when the going gets tough.

But on behalf of all the neutrals - as well as Birds and Baxter-fearing Amakhosi fans - let's  Siyabonga Novethe adds to his magnificent 20 goals for the Birds at Maritzburg. And please Arrows, score first on Saturday. The football-speaking nation deserves a fitting finale.

Some of this article appeared as my Neal and Pray column in You can catch me on Monday morning on eNews and eTV Sunrise, or follow me on twitter @nealcol.

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