Saturday, 21 November 2015

SUPER SATURDAY: own goals, injury time, four goal sprees and angry Tunisians

REFFING HELL! Sahel players at work
on Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe
FOOTBALL. It’s a silly old game. Saturday was an absolute extravaganza of eccentricity. From those mysterious seven minutes of injury time at the Harry Gwala to the demolition of the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.

It doesn’t end there of course. First we saw Manchester United go top of the Premier League thanks to a last-minute own goal scored by Watford’s scorer, then we saw Arsenal fail to go top after a Mikel Arteta own goal and a slapstick Santi Cazorla penalty miss straight out of the Three Stooges.

Let’s stick to the British Premier League for a moment for the sake of the ridiculous: Leicester City, more of a rugby town for decades, are top because Liverpool were, for the first time under Jurgen Klopp, too good. Manchester City inexplicably folded 4-1 against the mid-table Merseysiders.

And how about the irony of the Reds’ former Champions League winner Rafa Benitez being in charge of Real on a night of absolute El Clasico misery? Barca’s 4-0 win, with goals from Luis Suarez (two), Neymar and Andres Iniesta was achieved with the great Lionel Messi, back from injury, largely on the bench. And even with his cushion, he was better than his arch-rival Cristiano Ronaldo.

Back home, it was almost impossible to keep up. Gavin Hunt’s PSL leaders Bidvest Wits were all at sea against Serame Letsoake’s Golden Arrows. Yes, they utterly outplayed the visitors but couldn’t get past Namibian goalkeeper Maximilian Mbaeva.

At half-time I exchanged rare messages with PSL communication director Luxolo September. We agreed it was a superb first half with Arrows 1-0 up.

But in what turned out to be perhaps the game of the season so far, Bidvest Wits equalised through 18-year-old Phakamani Mhlambi only to go behind again.

And then came real drama. Mbaeva was sent off, rightly, for a handball outside the box. With Ricardo Goss still warming his gloves, Daine Klate smacked his free-kick, not for the first time, straight in to the corner for 2-2.

And within minutes Klate, 30, let go by Orlando Pirates and SuperSport United in recent seasons, conjured the winner to go top of the PSL scoring charts and make clear his intention to add a SIXTH championship medal to the record FIVE he had already garnered at Supersport and Pirates.

Hunt was hilarious afterwards. Six points clear at the top of the PSL, he moaned: “This is what always happens after an international break. The players are away, eating too much and lazing around, they come back here and they’re sluggish.”

Bloody hell, Gavin, SLUGGISH? It was magnificent.

It was Kaizer Chiefs who appeared to have a real problem with sluggishness, falling behind to rock-bottom Maritzburg United and never really looking like recovering. While Steve Komphela looked increasingly crest-fallen, Clive Barker, at 72, appeared to have out-thought and out-fought the mighty AmaKhosi in front of a sell-out crowd at the Harry Gwala.

But then up goes the injury-time board: SEVEN MINUTES. Gasps all round. And what happens with the final touch of the game? Chiefs equalise. Injustice. Utterly unfair. The Dog’s tail should have been wagging.

But before we could even react to that salvage operation, with El Clasico and Liverpool rampaging on nearby channels, Orlando Pirates were up and ready to play the first leg of their CAF Confederations Cup final first leg in front of a nearly full Orlando Stadium.

ES Sahel, from the Tunisia holiday resort of Sousse where 38 tourists were shot in June, have won just about everything there is to win in Africa. But they looked out of sorts in the final footballing saga on Saturday night.

Tamsanqa Gabuza produced a remarkable left-footed first half finish to give Eric Tinkler’s men the advantage and really, the visitors - who arrived by charter flight on Wednesday and barely spoke to a soul - were anything but classy. Their treatment of the officials - at one point they shoved a man-handled the Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe - was matched only by their failure to pick up the mood of the evening.

On both Jacaranda FM and SAFM I predicted a two-goal margin for Pirates. After all, Etoile du Sahel had failed to beat anybody away from home in the entire tournament apart from Esperance, about 130km down the road. A late equaliser ruined the night. Jemal was the fox in the box. It was a night of poor replays, so I can't say if it was off-side. The Pirates players certainly called for it.

Ultimately, it ended 1-1. Job undone by a late away goal. The second leg will be a struggle next week, but they have a fighting chance, these Buccaneers.

Tinkler said: "It was exactly what we expected. A good team defensively, but we could have come in at half-time 2-0 up. It was a gutsy performance. We let ourselves down in the dying minutes.

"I thought their behaviour was shocking. Should have had some red cards. And that includes the guys on their bench."

Can we predict the outcome in Sousse? Hardly. Who would have predicted Barcelona and Liverpool scoring four away from home? Who would have foreseen the own goals at Manchester United and Arsenal?

Best just let it unfold. It's a funny old game.

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