Sunday, 11 August 2013

The four PSL contenders this season? Look no further than the MTN8 winners this weekend

Double trouble: Kaizer Chiefs boss Stuart Baxter
THIRTEEN GOALS. A couple of red cards. A thousand incidents. Four teams left standing. The South African football season REALLY kicked off this weekend with the MTN8 quarter-finals after the opening round of the PSL last week.

The big guns made it. Today's semi-final draw saw the Soweto giants paired with Platinum Stars taking on Bidvest Wits in two-legged clashes with dates and venues to be announced.

Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune immediately twittered: "Exactly what everyone was hoping for, Derby it is."

The pick of the quarter-finals for me was Mbombela on Sunday, where continental contenders Orlando Pirates, leg-weary and over-travelled, recovered from going behind TWICE to bounce back with a 4-3 penalty shoot-out win after a pulsating 2-2 draw.

Predictably Senzo “Penalty King” Meyiwa was the man of the moment, though Andile Jali’s continued resurrection was recognised with the Man of the Match award in a game where Mame Niang frightened the pants of Pirates and Lennox “Bracela” Bacela proved he CAN score goals.

On Saturday night, I was at Soccer City for Kaizer Chiefs rousing 3-0 win over AmaTuks where a loud but insubstantial AmaKhosi saw their side overcome initial resistance to render meaningless Steve Barker’s dour, defensive tactics.

Platinum Stars’ 3-0 win over Free State Stars confirmed Allan Freeze still has the basis of a decent side in Phokeng and that Steve Komphela will struggle in Bethlehem. But judging by the attendance, nobody in the North West really cares.

But it was Bidvest Wits who caught the eye as contenders at this early stage of the season with their 3-0 win over Bloemfontein Celtic in a small but atmospheric Milpark Stadium on Friday night.

Their first-half performance was little short of scintillating, worth watching no matter what footballing language you might prefer. With Moeneeb “Stop ball-watching Boooooth” Josephs already at home in the Cleva Boys goal and the world’s tallest man Matthew Booth marshalling the defence, Gavin Hunt has build a defence which will be tough to breech.

Ahead of them, the excellent Burundian Faty Papy slots in nicely next to Matthew Pattison in a midfield unlikely to be outplayed anywhere this season, from Cape Town to Polokwane. Up front, Hunt appears to be relying on the ancient Great Zimbabwe edifice Benjani Mwaruwari, who at an estimated age of 34 still has a great touch.

That’s a strong spine, by any standards, though I suspect striker Nyasha Mushekwi may be added to an expensive University graduate scheme now that the Zimbabwean’s move from Mamelodi Sundowns to Belgium’s Oostende has fallen through.

Hunt himself accepts: “We’ve still got a few more signings to make before the end of the transfer window at the end of the month. But I’m happy with what we’ve got.

“Look there’s a lot of work to be done, but we’ve got the makings of a strong squad here. After all those years at SuperSport (where he won THREE successive PSL titles) I’m not here for a holiday.”

I reckon this weekend we’ve seen the four contenders for the PSL triumph in the MTN8. Orlando Pirates may be distracted by a remarkable African Champions League campaign, and Platinum Stars aren’t quite the force they were under Johnson when they finished surprise runners-up last season.

I foresee a down-to-the-wire showdown this season between Stuart Baxter and Gavin Hunt. A battle of the little big men. Chiefs have what it takes, grabbing the double of Nedbank Cup and PSL last season. Hunt’s Wits offer a backbone of players who have been there, done that.

Like Hunt, Baxter accepts: “There’s still work to be done. It’s still very early. We may make more signings.”

But if one of those two aren’t celebrating come May, I’d be surprised.

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  1. I will remind you of this column come end on May when Alje Schut lifts the League Trophy, don't say I didn't warn you Neal.

  2. I agree with anonymous, Alie will lift the cup! I think Bucs will be extended by the champions league and Chiefs might be too thin on depth. Wits and Supersport will also come close.