Thursday, 24 April 2014

Momentum: why Mamelodi Sundowns have got Kaizer Chiefs reeling on the ropes

Play it again: Hunt and Baxter clash in the
Nedbank Cup semi-finals too

CHAMPIONSHIP form is an intangible factor in the marathon of a league title race. It is the final, breathless burst which sorts the champion from the contenders in the finishing straight; it often contradicts all that has gone before.

The football-speaking world has to pay attention when Liverpool complete a lung-bursting sprint of 11 wins on the trot; just as South Africans have to sit up and pay attention when Pitso Mosimane’s Mamelodi Sundowns go on a late run of nine successive wins.

It's not over yet, the PSL title race, but with Chiefs needing a perfect finish and praying for a late Masandawana slip-up against SuperSport or Maritzburg, Pitso will be laughing this morning.

The season-long challengers suddenly look leggy (which is exactly what Bidvest Wits coach Gavin Hunt said about Kaizer Chiefs after last night’ 0-0 draw), wearied by a season-long chase for glory: while Manchester City and Chelsea stumble, Brendan Rodgers’ reds have grasped the long-awaited bull by the horns just as Masandawana have capitalised on an AmaKhosi title defence hamstrung by a draining CAF campaign and the final stages of the Nedbank Cup.

Neither Liverpool nor Sundowns have anything else to worry about, just the titles that eluded them for so long. While Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals and Stuart Baxter’s AmaKhosi must continue the farce of a CAF Confederations Cup play-off against ASEC Mimosas (they lost the first leg 2-1 on Sunday despite a rare Matty Rusike equaliser late in the game), the new favourites have only long-awaited championship glory to bother them.

Mathematically of course, Liverpool and Sundowns have it in the bag. It’s in Anfield’s hands, with that huge clash against Chelsea to come on Sunday. At Chloorkop, with games against SuperSport United and Maritzburg to finish, full points will guarantee the title; if they draw one and Chiefs win their last three, South Africa’s top two will be level on points with goal difference the deciding factor as it was in 2011 when Orlando Pirates pipped Ajax Cape Town.

A single Teko Modise goal was enough to see off Moroka Swallows at Dobsonville on Saturday night – and Mosimane himself admits: “We should have score another one or two. It’s the same old story. 1-0; 1-0… but we get the results, we get the three points.

 “But we have to the points. We are six clear. Now let’s sit back and watch how they do.”

Exactly. Baxter accepted last night: “If our rivals can win their last two games, I’ll be the first to congratulate them. Our job is just to keep on winning, taking our chances.”

Mosimane, in a season marked by eating grass, sweating blood and weeping real tears of frustration, knows the malaise that grips South African football, a disease which has left the nation’s top scorer Bernard Parker stuck on 10 goals since February when he last score in the league against Bloemfontein Celtic. Pitso grins: “I’ll have to bring on strikers, I need goals, that’s what it will come down to.”

Goals… and momentum. Championship form. Liverpool and Sundowns are showing the elusive formula necessary to grab their respective titles. Can their rivals match it? It’s starting to feel less and less likely.

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2002-2003: Orlando Pirates 61, Supersport United 55

2003-2004: Kaizer Chiefs 63 (highest), Ajax Cape Town 57

2004-2005: Kaizer Chiefs 62, Orlando Pirates 60

2005-2006: Mamelodi Sundowns 57, Orlando Pirates 54

2006-2007: Mamelodi Sundowns 61, Silver Stars 51

2007-2008: SuperSport United 54 (lowest), Ajax Cape Town 52

2008-2009: SuperSport United 55, Orlando Pirates 55

2009-2010: SuperSport United 57, Mamelodi Sundowns 56

2010-2011: Orlando Pirates 60, Ajax Cape Town 60

2011-2012: Orlando Pirates 58, Moroka Swallows 56

2012-2013: Kaizer Chiefs 57, Platinum Stars 56

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