Saturday, 26 May 2012

Sundowns fall prey to Gavin Hunt and his little big guns... AGAIN

Breaking the dreadlock: Thabo September
It remains one of the great mysteries of football. How unloved SuperSport United just keep getting one over their illustrious Tshwane rivals Mamelodi Sundowns.
Today's 2-0 Nedbank Cup Final win for the miracle worker Gavin Hunt is a case in point. Sundowns put out all their stars. Elias Palembe, South Africa's highest-paid footballer. Teko Modise, twice South Africa's player of the year when he was at Orlando Pirates. Wayne Sandilands, the best goalkeeper in the country.
I could go on. And I should mention the fact that the Dutch legend Johan Neeskens opted to leave the alleged Killer, Katlego Mphela, on the bench once more as Sundowns oozed class in the opening minutes.
And Hunt? He had teenaged goalkeeper Rowen Williams as his last line of defence, Morgan Gould captaining on the verge of a move to a more affluent club... and the veteran Thabo September next to him.
Incredibly, the penny-pinching Matsatsantsa (The Swanky Boys, apparently) didn't just beat the Gauteng Brazilians, they crushed them. After spending last week moaning about the size of the R1bn five-year sponsorship deal handed by Vodacom to Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, the little guys proved once more than money can't match passion.
Clearly, Sundowns will feel aggrieved. Teko Modise, who left the Buccaneers just before their six-title spree to join the Brazilians, had his chances of ending that personal trophy jinx ruined by last-minute replacement referee Gabriel Sekopo's decision to send off Clayton Daniels.
At half-time, Robert Marawa's SuperSport analysts backed the team named after their broadcasting company, insisting Daniels had to go for denying a clear goal-scoring chance. Rubbish. Goalkeeper Williams and a further defender remained to be beaten when the foul was committed.
Interesting that. Sekopo was only named as the final official at 9am this morning. Zolile Mthetho was announced as the referee on Friday night but mysteriously lost his whistle.
The legendary Dutch master Johan Neeskens, who saw both his league and cup campaigns derailed this season, could barely muster enthusiasm before the match.
He told Carol Tshabalala his side hadn't prepared any differently for the final. Yet for the last two months they've been awful. He appeared dismissive, uninterested in offering his views to the fans. There was a chaotic moment after the red card when his efforts to throw on a substitute and change the shape failed to materialise amid much gesticulating.
Then, after the match, Neeskens said: "It was impossible for us after the sending off. It would have been a better final with 11 against 11. But that is the way football is here."
Sadly, SuperSport (their television interviewers rather than their players) failed to push Neeskens on that. Might have made interesting listening.
Still, after the sending off, Thabo September produced the first-half goal the final needed, thundering in to find a path past my goalkeeper of the season Wayne Sandilands as the man with the Rastafarian hairstyle broke the dreadlock with his first goal of the season.
SuperSport added a second through Kermit Erasmus - was he named after the Sesame Street character? - and it was game over.
Even adding a knock-out cup to the three successive PSL titles they won from 2008 to 2010 won't help SuperSport United's paucity of fans, outnumbered 5,000 to 20,000 in Orlando yesterday. The R6m winners' cheque won't help them to buy top stars.
The Brazilians, backed by billionaire mining magnate Patrice Mtsepe, will remain the megabucks option in the city once known as Pretoria. Hunt will continue to defy the odds.
And even the arrival of the alleged Killer as a second-half sub couldn't alter the balance of power. Modise said afterwards: "It was difficult for us after the sending off. It was a good season for me, but I've got nothing to show for it again. Hopefully things will change."
They certainly will. With Zimbabwean Benjani now available free from cash-strapped English Championship strugglers Portsmouth, Sundowns are sniffing. And that will allow Mphela to switch to Kaizer Chiefs and their new coach Stuart Baxter, the man who recommended Killer to Glasgow Celtic last year, probably with SuperSport captain Morgan Gould, though Sundowns could yet keep him in Tshwane.
And Neeskens, who failed to stop his team's dramatic post-Christmas slump after the 24-goal win over Powerlines in the cup, must surely be considering his future.
Hunt meanwhile will be trying to find a replacement for his key centre-back and leader Gould, just as he did in January 2011 when Bongani Khumalo went off to hibernation with Tottenham Hotspur.
The little man was close to tears afterwards: "That was a great performance. That's one thing this team has. Plenty of heart."
With that he was off to celebrate before tomorrow's PSL Awards ceremony at Gold Reef City, where he will challenge Gordon Igesund for coach of the season. Promises to be some do. And by then we will know where Gould's gold lies.
Ultimately though, this was a fitting climax to the South African season. Though Igesund's Swallows failed narrowly to edge out the Sea Robbers in the League, Hunt's men did the business.
As Thabo September grabbed his green Man of the Match jacket, it struck me - having refereed five Under 7 games this morning: I'm still in love with this game.

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