Monday, 26 August 2013

A little bit of Knowledge goes a long way: How the Soweto derby was won - and lost

Gaining Knowledge: Kaizer Motaung and Stuart
Baxter give on-loan Musona his No11 shirt

It is a well known fact that a lack of Knowledge can cause a person all kinds of problem in life. Just ask Stuart Baxter.

On Saturday, with 80,000 people at Soccer City looking over his shoulder, the Kaizer Chiefs coach decided he could do without the on-loan Zimbabwean Knowledge Musona in his starting line-up against Soweto rivals Orlando Pirates.

There is no way Baxter or his AmaKhosi could legislate for a superb kick from the rejuventated Daine Klate after 12 minutes. There is no way the first foreign coach to win the PSL in his first year could have predicted such a strong start from Roger de Sa's Buccaneers either.

But what Baxter COULD and SHOULD have done, is start with a more positive attitude.

I spoke to Stuart last Thursday on my football show Bollockz. At the time, we agreed his three musketeers - Musona, Bernard Parker and Leohlonolo Majoro might all start in the first leg of the MTN8 semi-final.

It was an exciting debate about options: "I've started with all three, I've started with two of them, we have alternatives."

But perhaps I overlooked the bit where Baxter, by his nature a conservative man, said: "It's the first leg, you have to box cagily. You don't want to concede goals."

Despite lengthy chats with all involved in the Soweto Derby in the build-up, I was as surprised as anybody to see Musona left out of the starting line-up. I was not surprised about the Pirates team - Roger de Sa warned me on Friday night that long-term injury Siya Sangweni, though back in training, would not make it for the big game.

That was something of a relief. The last Soweto derby Sangweni played in - with a knee injury sustained during last year's African Cup of Nations - ended 0-0 but the man with a cattle farm near Richards Bay has taken over six months to recover.

In the midfield, Andile Jali failed his late fitness test after ankle and groin injuries but that didn't really concern me. I'd spoken to Legohonolo Maselesa before the game. For a 20-year-old, the former Wits Clever Boy was completely unfazed about playing in his first Soweto Derby.

What was it he said? "Neal, I'm not living the dream. I'm very lucky to be playing for Orlando Pirates, but I have a lot of improving to do before we can talk about living the dream!"

But as he did the week before when he came on for Jali in the 4-1 win over Egyptian giants Zamalek, South Africa's Vieira simply glided through his first Bucca v AmaKhosi clash, running his socks off with Sox, denying Yeye, Shabba and Parker before picking up the man of the match award.

Incredible stuff for a young lad who simply has everything it takes to make it, both here and in Europe.

But ultimately this was not about the battle of the midfield, nor about Senzo Meyiwa and Itumeleng Khune, described to me before the game by Mark Fish as "the best two goalkeepers in Africa".

This was about Stuart forgetting to throw caution to the win in the first leg at home. This was about Roger De Sa, who has been haunted by an unhappy Ghost for so long, finally getting the upper hand.

I've counted NINE matches where De Sa has come up against Chiefs and failed to grasp the victory he has so long deserved. This time he relished it, grinning: "My captain Lucky Lekgwathi is a legend, he gets better with age! Oupa Manyisa and Sifiso Myeni were magnificent with Vieira. I'm very proud of my lads."

And while Baxter insisted: "Musona wouldn't have done any better in the first half," we all saw the improvement the Zimbabwean striker made when he came on at half-time.

I'm afraid in this instance, a little Knowledge was not quite dangerous enough. He remains a shadow of the striker who left here for Germany as South Africa's top scorer - but his ability, touch and reputation were sorely missed in the first half.

We have to wait a painfully long month for the second legs of the MTN8 semi-finals. I daren't touch on Platinum Stars whopping Wits in the Sunday semi as Gavin Hunt will have my guts for garters. But I can say this to AmaKhosi fans: "Knowledge is power."
BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 10am-noon. The full interview is on video below.
You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal & Pray” column every Tuesday

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Thursday, 22 August 2013

South Africa's Vieira: Legohonolo Maselesa on the African Champions League, his first Soweto derby, Turfloop and keeping his feet on the ground

South Africa's Vieira: Legohonolo Maselesa

Legohonolo Maselesa is not your ordinary 20-year-old. The former South African Under 17 captain is rapidly proving that as he settles in to the Orlando Pirates squad with uncommon calm.

Forced to replace Andile Jali early in the Buccaneers’ 3-0 win against Egyptian giants Zamalek last Saturday, his coach Roger de Sa said simply: “Maselesa looked like he’d been playing in the African Champions League all his life.”

Now Maselesa faces his first Soweto derby – the MTN8 semi-final against Kaizer Chiefs on Saturday is getting close to a sell-out – insisting he is ready for the 90,000 baying fans.

Perhaps better known as Vieira – after the former France World Cup winning midfielder Patrick – Maselesa explains: “I was playing for an academy in Joburg, Afrika Sports, when they started calling me Vieira. I was 12 at the time, back in 2004. Every since then, I’ve been Vieira.

“As a footballer you have to be prepared to come on at any moment. When Andile went down injured, I can’t really say I was nervous, there was the TP Mazembe game, that may have been harder than Zamalek!”

So is he living the dream following his move from Bidvest Wits last year? “I can’t really say that this is the dream, I still hope things get better from here! Obviously, as a young boy it IS a dream to play for Pirates, it doesn’t happen to everyone. For me to be here is an honour, a privilege.

“But I can’t say I’ve arrived, I still have to push myself.”

And playing for De Sa? “Roger for me, because I worked with him before at Wits, is everything in one. I’m not trying to say things that he’s not. But he can be that leader, put the foot down. But when it’s time to joke around he can do that too.

“He’s all in one, serious guy, funny guy, all in one.”

In a football world where coaches are fiercely protective of their young stars – Sir Alex Ferguson never let Ryan Giggs or David Beckham near a microphone until they were in their mid-20s – “Vieira” is able to give us a unique glimpse in to the pressures of breaking in to the professional ranks.

When I asked about the pressure, the problems of super-stardom, his answer was spot on.

“I come from a very humble background, it’s easy to keep my feet on the ground. I have people around me who criticise me a lot. They give me a call and give me a bit of stick for my performances!

“It’s never like I get good reviews. People might say I’m playing well but when I get home it’s a different story, the people who really matter and give me advice, never tell me I’m the finished article.

“To be honest I feel amazing. It’s not every child who gets to play for Pirates and for me that’s no pressure. Every day I learn different things, I learn and I play better.

“I’m from Turfloop near Polokwane – I don’t know who said I was from Alexandra. I’d like to believe most great footballers come from Limpopo! There is a huge amount of talent coming from the north.

“I’m not a physio, I can’t tell you if Andile Jali will be fit for Saturday. But this will be my first Soweto derby. If it happens, I’ll be willing to give my best and hopefully, to earn a good result. But anything can happen!

“My biggest crowd before this was 50,000 when we played Pirates in the Nedbank Cup final in 2011 and lost 3-1. This will be my biggest crowd ever.

So how will the huge gathering affect him? Can he shut it out or will it inspire? “I played then and only about 1,000 of the crowd were supporting Wits, this time about half of them will be supporting me, at the stadium and millions on the television. I can only get fired up you know!”

 BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 10am-noon. The full interview is on video below.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal & Pray” column every Tuesday

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AmaKhosi boss Stuart Baxter explains why Saturday's Soweto derby is unique in the world - and why Pirates winning in Africa is worth a glass of wine!

Rivals not enemies: Roger de Sa and
Stuart Baxter with the MTN8 trophy

KAIZER CHIEFS coach STUART BAXTER prepares for Saturday’s Soweto derby insisting the nation’s clash of giants is unique in the world of football.

But the double-winning AmaKhosi boss insists he is on good terms with Bucca coach Roger De Sa and that they will “share a glass of wine together” after the first leg of the MTN semi-final - no matter what.

Baxter, who became the first foreign PSL coach to win the title in his first season, said on my football show BOLLOCKZ! yesterday: “I’ve been to big football derbies all over the world, and the Soweto Derby matches anything in terms of spectacle and passion.

“But it’s very, very different to anything else. The crowd mingles. It’s a carnival. They get so hyped up for it on a different level. It’s unique, something we should cherish and be proud of.”

And he recalls a decade-long relationship with former Bafana goalkeeper De Sa saying: “I’ve known Roger for a long time, since I was the national coach. We’ve kept in touch. I rate him as a friend and colleague.

“A lot of people raised their eyebrows when I said I was pleased to see Pirates getting a good win in Egypt. If Pirates get a good result does that make us useless? If they do badly does that make us a better team? NO IT DOESN’T.

“It’s a good result for South Africa when Pirates do well in Africa. When we walk on the pitch we won’t be buying each other cake, when the line is drawn in the sand we’ll be fierce enemies for 90 minutes. And that’s it, we’ll do whatever we can to get a result.

“Afterwards I’ll buy him a glass of wine and say: "Well played" or "unlucky son"! I don’t think we need to hate each other to make a positive rivalry. You do your work for your club, no matter what other people do, it doesn’t make you better or worse.”

As for the intricate details of Saturday’s clash – where 80,000 tickets have already been sold – Baxter insists: “At this moment no injuries to report, Major had a bit of a day off with a virus but he's back so it’s only Siyabonga Nkosi who is in training but not available for selection.

“How will we play in at Soccer City? It’s possible we could play Bernard Parker, Lehlohonolo Majoro and Knowledge Musona all up front together. We’ve played with all three together before. They will all be playing a part in the game.

“But it’s a two-legged affair this one so you’re looking not to concede a goal at home while getting a few in the plus column. We’ll have to box a little bit cagily but I can envisage playing all three strikers in the game.”

Mark Fish, part of the 1995 Orlando Pirates Champions League winning team, also highlighted the unique nature of the Soweto Derby on BOLLOCKZ!, saying: “Apart from playing against Chiefs, the biggest game I played in during my years in Europe was the Rome derby. Roma v Lazio, who share a stadium.

“But there it’s all about segregating the fans, there are police and stewards everywhere. In all the big European derbies it’s like that. You have to keep the fans apart. But here, it’s different. For all the rivalry, the fans can sit together, sing together.

“That’s what makes Orlando Pirates v Kaizer Chiefs unique.”

You can find both the Baxter and Mark Fish videos below.

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 10am-noon.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal & Pray” column every Tuesday

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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

THE SAFA PRESIDENCY: With Danny and Irvin going head-to-head, is Kirsten the only peaceful option?

The big three: Khoza, Jordaan and Nematandani

KIRSTEN NEMATANDANI is not your typical national football president. Through the alleged match-fixing, the alleged near-bankruptcy, the alleged bribery of regional representatives, the alleged fleet of Mercedes, the 55-year-old has kept his head above water as the leader of the South African Football Association.

Appointed as a "compromise candidate" when Irvin Khoza and Danny Jordaan went head to head at the end of 2009, Kirsten has not had it easy.

With the 2010 World Cup in South Africa looming, Khoza was ruled out of the top job because of his club affiliation. Jordaan was asked not to stand as he was running the World Cup local organising committee. The meeting which elevated Nematandani to the SAFA presidency involved judges, arguments and slanging matches.

From that day until this, Nematandani has been the scapegoat for many of South African football's shortcomings. He was the man suspended when FIFA's pre-World Cup match-fixing report dropped, he had to accept his resinstatement in the SAFA House car park, he was the man accused of cocking-up when sponsors left, when money ran short.

But under his reign South Africa has successfully hosted a World Cup AND an African Cup of Nations. Under his reign, Irvin "Four Jobs" Khoza's thirst for power has been frightening to watch while Jordaan probes carefully from his position as a SAFA vice-president with strong links at FIFA and CAF and that R500m FIFA Legacy fund cash burning a hole in his pocket.

Danny has told me he will "definitely" stand for SAFA President on September 28. Khoza is leaving it to his allies to change the constitution to allow his candidacy which will see the head of the PSL, NSL and Orlando Pirates grab another hugely powerful position.

Tonight, from a source I can't reveal, I'm told Kaizer Motaung will take over from Khoza as PSL chairman if the Iron Duke gets the SAFA job. But with the added information: "Kaizer will just be a "ghost" chairman, Khoza will really run the PSL and SAFA."

And between these two men stands Nematandani. Kirsten was born in Makhado near Louis Trichardt in 1958. He speaks five languages and has a footballing background, coaching Chibuku Young Stars in 1986-88 before moving in to administration.

Neither Khoza nor Jordaan can boast that. Administration rather than football was their goal. I have in my possession documents suggesting all kinds of things surrounding the dispute between the two heavyweights. Publicly, Khoza and Jordaan proclaim to be best mates, both support Orlando Pirates, both politically connected to the very top in this football-loving nation.

And then there's Kirsten. Nice bloke, articulate, desperately trying to keep the ship sailing comfortably amid the machinations with the still unannounced Presidential inquiry into match-fixing lurking in the background.

Checking the facts: lunch with Danny Jordaan

I spoke to Kirsten off the record tonight. I've spoken to Jordaan in depth about the state of affairs at SAFA.

What I can say is Kirsten remains keen to be the filling in the sandwich, the arbitrator between club owning millionaire Khoza and long-time ANC sports politician Jordaan.

Nematandani told me tonight: "It's not been easy Neal, but somebody needs to get these two factions to work together. We don't want one becoming President and the other left out. That has been my job for nearly four years. I've tried to do that to the best of my ability."

It's an unenviable task. Khoza has created a PSL which is largely successful but often chaotic. His ownership of one of South Africa's largest club's calls his position in to question constantly. Jordaan will put country ahead of club at last, and he will focus on development rather than short-term goals.

But Nematandani claims he can keep the pair from going to war, his presidential mandate from the start. Perhaps this strange compromise is the way forward, the only peaceful solution.

With the English Premier League season kicking off tomorrow, preview of my beloved Arsenal's chances HERE:

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 10am-noon.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal & Pray” column every Tuesday

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Saturday, 17 August 2013

Pirates 7, Egyptian giants 1: how Pirates - not Bafana or the Boks - led the celebrations for Madiba

Opening goal: Lennox Bacela

NELSON MANDELA’S 95th birthday celebrations were not led by Gordon Igesund or Heineke Meyer, despite rousing wins for Bafana Bafana and the Springboks at Soccer City on Saturday.

The highlight of Madiba’s “Sport and Culture” day came eight kilometres away while the musicians were still playing at the World Cup final venue.

The big celebrations were going on in Orlando, deep in the heart of Soweto, where Roger de Sa’s swashbuckling Pirates blew away African giants Zamalek SC 4-1 in perhaps their best display yet in the Champions League.

With Al Ahly – thumped 3-0 by the Buccaneers at Al Gouna a fortnight ago – edging the Congo’s AC Leopards 1-0 earlier in the day, Irvin Khoza’s club now lead Group A by three points at the halfway stage in qualifying.

By my reckoning, depending how the second half pans out, Pirates now need just THREE points from their last three games to make it. One win. Three draws. Boom. Even two might do.

For a side laid low last season as De Sa failed to retain the PSL for a third consecutive season after taking over from Augusto Palacios with the side in 10th place, the African miracle, the quest for the second star, is rapidly becoming a real possibility.

Not since 1995 has a South African side looked this good on the continent. A combined score of 7-1 against the two Egyptian giants with 11 stars between them since 1982 is beyond the dreams of any South Africa football fan.

While Gordon’s Bafana saw off a tepid Burkina Faso 2-0 and Heineke’s Boks crushed Argentina 73-11, Roger’s Pirates were in all sorts of trouble when Zamalek instantly wiped out Lennox Bacela’s brilliant turn-and-fire opener.

But three well-worked second-half goals from the revolutionary Sifiso Myeni, the returning Tlou Segolela and  the reviving Dain Klate left Zamalek in tatters by the final whistle.

Roger, all smiles and clenched fists, emerged to say: “We could have done without conceding that equalising goal but what can I say? How can I ask for more than that from these players?

“We’re enjoying this purple patch in Africa. I know they’ll be ready for us when we return to Egypt but we travel well now. The boys are united, we are a team, we fight and fight.”

While Bafana can claim to have redeemed themselves (a little) after the abject 2-0 defeat against Nigeria last Wednesday in Durban with goals from Siphiwe Tshabalala and Lerato Chabangu (forget Nomandele’s last-gasp touch over the line), it was the Pirates who really lifted the nation on a rousing day for South African Sport.

Vieira: Lehlogonolo Masalesa
With Klate back to something like his best and Bacela proving an astute buy, it was Lehlogonolo Masalesa who really caught the eye.

The 21-year-old from Alexandria was thrown on when Andile Jali – struggling with an ankle before the game – was carried off on a stretcher with what look like a related groin injury early in the game.

But the man known as Vieira did more than hold his own between in the bristling band of midfield Pirates like Myeni, Oupa Manyisa and Klate.

He thrived, he grew, he ran and ran. On a night when heroes were made in Orlando, Masalesa was the flag-bearer, the bugle-blower. De Sa said: “He looked like he’d played in Africa all his life. What a performance.”

It’s wise at this point to remember just where the Egyptians are at the moment. Domestic football violence, the Arab Spring and, more recently, the Morsi coup has left their league suspended. Football doesn’t matter when a nation is burning.

Four-star Zamalek and seven-star defending African champions Al Ahly are currently struggling to keep match fit, their star players are eager to find a place in Europe.

And while Zamalek’s twitterers complained about the training ground next to Ellis Park on Friday, hundreds were dying in Cairo. Just turn on one of the 24 news channels. Now. It can’t be easy.

But Roger and his Pirates can’t be blamed for any of those factors. All they can do is beat what is put before them. And they have done that with some panache over the past fortnight.

The return trip to Zamalek is next, then Al Ahly come to Orlando hunting revenge before AC Leopards finish the group stages in the Congo Republic. I have no doubt a semi-final berth awaits, with similar obstacles to come before talk of a second star can commence around a glorious finale.

But for now, let’s celebrate. Bafana won. The Springboks cruised. Orlando Pirates were magnificent. All in honour of Madiba. That can’t be bad.

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 10am-noon.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal & Pray” column every Tuesday

BOLLOCKZ! is backed by - have a look at their site for my latest sports betting advice!

Friday, 16 August 2013

SHAKE IT UP GORDON! Kungwane calls for change after Bafana's Nigeria nightmare

Shocking: Shakes Kungwane

SHAKES KUNGWANE described South Africa’s abject 2-0 defeat against Nigeria on Wednesday night as “sad, shocking and embarrassing”.

And the widely-respected Kungwane believes Bafana Bafana head coach Gordon Igesund is running out of time if he doesn’t make wholesale changes to his experienced squad  - something he will be forced to do at the Nelson Mandela Sports Day on Saturday.

Igesund will take on Burkina Faso without his foreign-based internationals today - Tokelo Rantie and Dean Furman have flown back to Europe to play for their clubs this weekend. But Kungwane remains concerned about Bafana as they prepare for a double-header at Soccer City which also features the nation's rugby Springboks playing Argentina's Pumas.

The former Kaizer Chiefs star with the cultured left foot carries huge weight as an analyst in South Africa and he too believes it is time for a fresh start.

Khungwane told me on my football show BOLLOCKZ on Thursday: “It just sums it up, comparing England with South Africa. England stick with Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney. We still hang on to Tshabalala, YeYe, Parker.

“Does the coach have a mandate or is he just hanging on for his CV? We played against the No1 side in Africa and we had withdrawals but in our last World Cup qualifier against Botswana we have to do something.

“Igesund has failed on his mandate to qualify for Brazil. What happens when the new SAFA president comes in and says: “What happened to your mandate to reach the last four when we hosted AFCON earlier this year?”

“We are moving one step forward, ten steps back. When Gordon took over, we had hope. But now that hope is gone. We need to start afresh.

“Let’s forget about players who have 50 or 60 caps. Look at the team that went to COSAFA? Only two or three of them were there at the Moses Mabhida.

“We’re not going to qualify for the World Cup, let’s be honest. We still hanging on to memories of winning the African Cup of Nations in 1996 like England hang on to 1966.

“At the moment we’ve got an assistant coach who used to be a technical director for SAFA for donkey’s years. Now he is Gordon’s No2. Are there not any better people to go around and look for 19, 20 year olds who can play for Bafana?

“Instead we have Shabba. Again. Come on guys. Gordon believes in experienced players unfortunately. But we have players in Holland, Belgium, Sweden and England, George Maluleka at Chiefs… we must start fresh, everything new. And move on.

“I’ve been coached by Gordon. It’s such a good excuse for him to have players withdraw. Then he can say he doesn’t have better players.

“You get a player like Nomandela… he touched the ball two or three times. We’re living on false hopes.

“Come on Nealy, we went to England, Holland, Brazil, we went all over for help. Why can’t we have our own models, one South Africans love and want to see.

“There’s a lot of talent in the country, unfortunately it’s all about winning, about rankings. We need fresh ideas, not people who only worry about getting their salary every month.

“We couldn’t even score goals. Let’s not  beat about the bush and say we’re improving. Ten out of ten? We’re on about three.

“We’re between a rock and a hard place, but we need the courage to start afresh. We need to say listen: You did your best guys. We’re starting again.

“Are we still learning with Shabba, KG, YeYe? Shocking performance from Dean Furman, I think he’s over-rated too.

“Honestly speaking, the only way to sort this out is to wait for the new SAFA president to take office. He will want to impress. He must decide whether to keep Gordon.

“For me, we start afresh, we have nothing to lose. Most African nations hate us, we have everything going for us. Everybody wants to beat us. We must have our own model, our own way of doing things.

“We can’t play like the Spanish. We can’t play like the Germans. We must play OUR way.

“Beat Burkina Faso? Trash Botswana? Come on!”

Trenchant critique from Shakes was followed by equally strong words from Nigeria-based BBC World Service football correspondent Oluwashina Okeleji, who was equally scathing about Igesund’s Bafana.

Okeleji questioned whether South Africa’s head coach is enjoying his job – and also suggested a “clear-out” of established interationals, saying: “Nigeria’s worst side can beat Bafana’s best, yet you have the best-run domestic league on the continent.”

You can listen to both interviews on BOLLOCKZ! below…

With the English Premier League season kicking off tomorrow, preview of my beloved Arsenal's chances HERE:

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 10am-noon.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal & Pray” column every Tuesday

BOLLOCKZ! is backed by - have a look at their site for my latest sports betting advice!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Siyanda Xulu "disappointed" at being over-looked for Bafana's defeat against Nigeria - in his home town

On top of his game: Siyanda Xulu is on
on top of the world with Rostov in Russia
Gallo Images

SIYANDA XULU has expressed disappointment and frustration after being over-looked for South Africa’s disappointing 2-0 defeat against Nigeria in his hometown on Wednesday.

Just a fortnight ago, former Mamelodi Sundowns defender Xulu marked the world’s best player, Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o, out of the game when his underdogs Rostov beat billionaire Suleyman Kerimov’s Anzhi  Makhachkala 1-0.

Even that wasn’t enough to earn a call from SAFA but the 21-year-old from KwaMashu insists: “I hope to be back in Gordon Igesund’s thinking for the final World Cup qualifier against Botswana on September 7 at the Moses Mabhida.”

Xulu, speaking on my football show BOLLOCKZ on yesterday morning, told me: “Nobody from Bafana made any contact. I was very disappointed, we were top of the Russian League. I’m doing very well for my club, we are winning, I am playing. Of course I was disappointed.

“I’m a KwaMashu boy, I always miss home, you always do. I wanted to come home and play in this game in Durban.

“I didn’t get to see the Nigeria defeat because they didn’t show it in Russia but I got to hear from my parents and some friends. They told me. Bafana didn’t have much of a good game I hear, especially when we were the ones playing a home, near where I grew up. We always like to beat Nigeria.

“At Rostov were are on the same points as No1, we have played four, won three, drawn one. We have made a good start.

“The best was beating Anzhi Makhachkala, the richest club in Russia – they were the runners-up here in the league last season. We played very well, we didn’t concede a goal, we won 1-0. It was very hard. We managed!

“I marked Samuel Eto’o, the best-paid striker in the world. It was quite difficult! He was kept quiet (laughs), he tried, you could see in his face he was frustrated, he wanted a goal. But I was trying my best to keep him quiet.

“Playing at Rostov has taught me a lot. I have come here to achieve a lot. In South Africa we don’t have the concrete development structures they have in Russia. Obviously you have to work hard, we match them skill-wise but technically it’s much quicker than South African football.

“My team Rostov is doing very well, it means a lot Neal, as a player you always want to do well, financially and on the pitch.

“I think if you have a chance to play in Europe, your South African team should let you go. It’s good for our nation and it’s good for Bafana.

“It was very frustrating when I tried to leave. At first I went to Barcelona, I was going to go but the president left. They were impressed, Atletico Madrid then offered me a contract and Mamelodi Sundowns said it wasn’t good enough.

“When I had the opportunity to go to Russia, they did it again, but I got here in the end. I don't understand why South African clubs make it so difficut.

“I think any young South Africa with a chance to go overseas should take it. It’s hard, you miss home, but it’s worth it. You become a better player.

“I hope I get to prove that against Botswana next month.”

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 10am-noon. See my Siyanda Xulu interview below - and further videos on the Ballz site, where I talk to Shakes Khunwane, THE MOLE and Oluwashina Okeleji of the BBC World Service about Bafana's abject defeat against Nigeria.

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal & Pray” column every Tuesday A shorter version of THIS story will be published in The New Age on Tuesday.

BOLLOCKZ! is backed by - have a look at their site for my latest sports betting advice!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Time up for Gordon's South Africa: after Nigeria embarrassment, is it time for Baby Bafana?

False dawn? Bafana celebrate against CAR

THERE are no words to adequately describe Bafana Bafana’s disappointing 2-0 defeat against Nigeria at the Moses Mabhida on Wednesday night.

So often, under the management of no-nonsense Gordon "Four PSL Titles" Igesund, we have been tempted to scent a new dawn for South African football. There was the AFCON win against Angola, the World Cup triumph over the Central African Republic in Cameroon, even the two hard-fought 1-0 defeats in Brazil and Poland.

But nothing can quite prepare a nation for a thumping at the hands of an old footballing foe, many of whom live gleefully in our midst.

With John Obi Mikel out with a pre-season “tummy bug” and his Chelsea team-mate Victor Moses left languishing on the bench despite his enthusiasm for the Madiba challenge, South Africans were hoping for a rousing triumph – or even a drab draw – against a side with five wins and just one defeat against Bafana.

Instead we were treated to a performance which left many mourning the bad old days of Pitso Mosimane and the bungling Brazilians who preceded him.

Up front, Malmo’s former Pirate Tokelo Rantie, allegedly the subject of a R18m bid from lowly Bournemouth earlier in the day, barely had a touch. Next to him Benard Parker looked more likely to score at the other end, as he did with such stunning accuracy in the numbing World Cup qualifying defeat in Ethiopia.

At the back, the old Bloemfontein Celtic centre-back duo of Tower Mathoho and Thabo Nthethe showed alarming inexperience and a worrying ability to freeze as Uche Nworfor, on as a second half substitute, helped himself to a brace.

The first was a deft back heel, a moment of quick-thinking with his first touch after coming on for Shola Ameobi. The second was a mere tap in, with the glamour sub Moses involved in an intricate build-up which left Mathoho and Nthethe all at sea next to the Indian Ocean.

In the middle of the park, Dean Furman was exposed for the journeyman he really is at Doncaster Rovers with Reneilwe Letsholonyane just as hard-working but equally incapable of finding the killer ball world-class midfielders MUST be able to deliver.

As irate South Africans desperately searched for answers, there was In-Gord-We-Trust insisting: “We did well in the first half. But Nigeria were the better side, they had more purpose in the second half. We made poor decisions around the box, too rushed.

“We have to calm down, keep the ball. I threw in a couple of youngsters. I’m not too disappointed, there are things we can work on.”

But we have heard all that before. It feels like Bafana are no nearer a real solution than we were post-Pitso after that dream-crushing opening draw against Ethiopia.

Former Bafana and Pirates hero Mark Fish said: “It looked like we were afraid to tackle Victor Moses. Nigeria were a far better side going forward.”

There is no easy solution. Development in this country is barely touched on while SAFA and the PSL seek to bolster their coffers with short term solutions and gimmicks. The Bafana junior set-up remains an embarrassment, as do many of the so-called academies at our major clubs.

When Bafana return to the Moses Mabhida, a super-stadium which deserves better, on September 7 to play Botswana, Igesund will be relying on the Central African Republic to take at least two points off Ethiopia to stand any chance of qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil next year.

And do we really stand any chance in the play-offs against sides like these African champions Nigeria? Of course not, given what we’ve seen.

The answer lies in youth. The only answer. Igesund must have the guts to tell the big boys at SAFA he has seen enough of Rantie, Parker, YeYe and Shabba, who shoot like rusty blunderbusses and sell their image rights with lethal intent.

He must ignore calls for a return to the days of Teko Modise, Andile Jali and Killer Mphela. That’s as wise as calling up Benni bloody McCarthy and patching up Siya Sangweni or recalling Stevie Pienaar.

Gordon must go for 2018 now. Unearth the youngsters who are steadfastly ignored as the agents and chairmen insist on the selection of their falling stars in an attempt to keep their value high. We have now reached the stage where these “legends” are named in the Bafana squad for PR purposes even when SAFA knows they won’t play as we saw before the COSAFA Cup and the current double-whammy.

Siyanda Xulu is a case in point. At 21, he kept the mighty Samuel Eto’o quiet for Rostov against Anzhi in the Russian league a fortnight ago, a shackling of the best-paid player in the world - a feat which may ultimately lead to the breakdown of Makhachkala’s billionaire policy.

Yet Xulu and the equally promising Buhle Mkhwanazi at AmaTuks played no part against Nigeria’s Super Eagles and did anyone else get that sinking feeling when Lerato Chabangu emerged as a sub? I did.

Victory over Burkina Faso on Nelson Mandela Sports day on Saturday may gloss over this woeful night for South African football. But thank God it’s the Springboks who are taking on Argentina at Soccer City on the same bill.

WARNING: This was written in the throes of post-match depression!

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 10am-noon. You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal & Pray” column every Tuesday A shorter version of THIS story will be published in The New Age on Tuesday.

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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.

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 10am-noon. You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal & Pray” column every Tuesday A shorter version of THIS story will be published in The New Age on Tuesday.

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Thursday, 8 August 2013

FOR THE SAKE OF THE NATION: Roger and Gordon get their heads together to solve club v country row

No walking the plank: Gordon Igesund and Roger de Sa

DESASTER! CLUBBED v COUNTRY! BAFANA WALK PIRATES PLANK! Well, BOLLOCKZ! to all the lurid headlines. Gordon Igesund and Roger de Sa did the right thing today, getting their heads together to sort out the thorny club v country row which threatened to overshadow Madiba's footballing birthday celebrations.

The first hint of peace came early this morning when Orlando Pirates coach De Sa told me: "Gordon is one of the good guys. He is a reasonable person - we talked nicely. My players won't be playing for South Africa in the friendly against Nigeria. Hats off to Gordon for agreeing on that.

“We are doing this for the sake of the nation"

Then the call from Igesund: "Roger and I talked sensibly. I felt I couldn't pick a squad without any Pirates after their historic 3-0 win over Al Ahly. I knew this situation could arise, but once we'd talked about what South Africa needs, we agreed to go without the Buccaneers.

 “We have a friendly against Nigeria. For Pirates, the home game against Zamalek is the game of their lives. But Roger didn’t demand their release, he requested it. I thank him for that.

“There are times when you have to put the best interests of the nation first."

And there it was. Sorted. For the good of the game. And all on my radio show BOLLOCKZ an hour before the official announcement. Pirates, fresh from that historic 3-0 win over the African champions in Egypt, will save their players on the 14th for their clash with Zamalek on the 17th at the Orlando Stadium.

A second successive win over the Pharoahs will all but secure their place in the top half of Group A. Senzo Meyiwa, Thabo Matlaba, Andile Jali, Oupa Manyisa, Thandani Ntshumayelo and Daine Klate will NOT run the risk of injury which could derail the quest for a second star to follow the now-legendary 1995 success.

Igesund, meanwhile, will have to put Jali's international comeback on hold for Nigeria at the Moses Mabhida in Durban on the 14th. He already knew Mandela Day - which sees the rugby Springboks play Argentina too - would be staged against Burkina Faso on the 17th at Soccer City without Roger’s Sea Robbers.

Having already picked a squad of 28 – Gordon knew he would also have to do without his overseas contingent for the second game – Igesund has called up SuperSport United’s pair of former Swallows Bennett Chenene and David Mathebula as reinforcements following the Pirates announcement.

What’s refreshing about this situation is that there was no war of words as their might have been when club and country fall out in Europe. No Sir Alex Ferguson declaring Manchester United players with mysterious injuries, no aggrieved England coach crying foul.

That two men under such huge pressure can come to an amicable agreement is a real boost for South African football – especially when you consider Igesund MUST win his final World Cup qualifier against Botswana in Durban on September 7 to stand any chance of qualifying for Brazil 2014.

Igesund, who is relying on Ethiopia to drop points against the Central African Republic in Bangui, said: “Look Neal, I had to pick the best squad I could. That’s my job. I always knew I would lose nine players after the Nigeria game. Now I’m only losing three – with Chenene and Mathebula coming in.

“I did call  (goalkeeper) Darren Keet’s agent in Belgium and asked if he’d be available for the Mandela Sports day game on  the 17th but it’s not a FIFA date and his club (KV Kortrijk) are in action that weekend. But to be honest, I was going to start with Itumeleng Khune for both games anyway.”

Speaking on my show BOLLOCKZ! (see video below), Roger said: “Gordon understood where I was coming from. We have a good working relationship. Common sense prevailed.”

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 10am-noon. You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal & Pray” column every Tuesday in A shorter version of THIS story will be published in The New Age on Tuesday.

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Sunday, 4 August 2013

HISTORICAL, HYSTERICAL: Orlando Pirates 3 (three, drie, trois, drei), El Ahly 0 (niks, nothing, nada, zilch)

Walking the plank: El Ahly goalkeeper Ekramy in Al-Gouna yesterday

القراصنة ثلاثة أهداف، "الأهلي لا شيء

I am reliably informed the sentence above is Arabic for “Orlando Pirates three goals, El Ahly NONE.”

And really, despite a fascinating start to our own Professional Soccer League, that is THE story of the weekend. Egyptian giants El Ahly hadn’t failed to score a goal at home since 2004. But Roger de Sa’s continental crushers gave them the kind of beating we won’t forget for a long, long time.

An opening goal from Thandani Ntshumayelo after an astonishing interchange with Collins Mbesuma made it 1-0 after 18 minutes, then came an incredible THIRD successive African Champions League penalty save from Senzo Meyiwa from Waleed Soliman in the 38th minute.

Just before half-time, the Algerian referee sent off Ahmed Abdul Zaher for dissent as he howled about yet another crunching Pirates tackle – and El Ahly, the defending African champions and three-time winners, never really recovered.

The second half belonged to Andile Jali. First he converted a 73rd minute penalty after Fathy (pronounced Farty) had felled Daine Klate, then – two minutes later – the Bafana reject produced a delightful little scooped pass to put Sifiso Myeni away for the third goal.

And that was it. In front of a windy, empty stadium at El Gouna on the Red Sea coast, the Egyptians were simply flabbergasted by the Pirates defence – the ageless Lucky Lekgwathi (estimates put him at 37) saved one of the line and tackled with all the subtlety of a Pharoah’s tomb.

It was at half-time I sent the under-pressure Pirates coach De Sa my usual SMS. Ths one said: “YOU FYCKING BEAUTY! ROGER DE SA YOU ARE A LEGEND!” He replied with "Yeeeepeeee" (see screen grab of SMSes above).

After the match, Roger said: “Fantastic result but look, we’re not getting carried away, there’s still four games to go in the group.

“I’m very happy but now I have to make sure we stay grounded – and get positive results.”

So you can rave all you want about Kaizer Chiefs’ hard-earned 1-0 win over promoted Mpumalanga Black Aces on Friday night. Clive Barker’s Dogs weren’t a million miles from humbling Stuart Baxter’s double-winning Gods in the PSL’s opening salvo.

And we can praise Cavin Johnson’s SuperSport United – 4-1 winners over Steve Khompela’s Free State Stars on Saturday – or Pitso Mosimane’s Monyloadi Signdowns for their 3-1 at tricky Bloemfontein Celtic. Some might say both were aided by harsh red cards.

But nothing compares with Pirates’ epic victory in El-Gounah. They go top of Group A on goal difference from Congo champions AC Leopards, who saw off Zamalec 1-0 in Dolisie.

Egypt’s Red Devils’ hadn’t lost at home since Tunisia’s Etoile Sahel beat them 3-1 in Cairo to lift the Champions League trophy six years ago. The game was played in afternoon heat and a gusting wind – but nothing could stop De Sa’s Buccaneers.

That second star may not be as impossible as we once assumed. As I said on twitter, a 3-0 win in Egypt is like the Springboks triumping 60-0 in Wellington or the Proteas enjoying a six-wicket victory in Delhi. Unthinkable.

BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 10am-noon. 

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal & Pray” column every Tuesday A shorter version of THIS story will be published in The New Age on Tuesday.

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Friday, 2 August 2013

The big-kick off tonight: Stuart Baxter's AmaKhosi go from the hunters to the hunted in Mpumalanga

THE big PSL kick-off tonight sees double-winning Kaizer Chiefs take on promoted Mpumalanga Blacks Aces at Mbombela – and AmaKhosi boss Stuart Baxter admits: “We are no longer the hunter, we are the hunted.”

Facing a side bolstered by 68-year-old AFCON-winning coach Clive Barker and an estimated 16 transfer window signings, Baxter told me on BOLLOCKZ! “The boys are conscious of the difference now after last year. Everybody knows what they’re getting now, they’re chasing us.

“They’re all working, it’s a double whammy, in the past everybody wanted to beat Kaizer Chiefs, ow they want to beat the champions - let’s get on with it!

“We’ll get us to being the hunted not the hunter. Clive Barker, a like a lot. But I don’t know much about his team with all those signings! We’ll prepare our game, Knowledge Musona is as ready as he can be having just come back to the club.

“Even at Manchester United at Chelsea, players have to settle but Musona is looking solid in training, a great asset. But as you say, Aces aren’t your usual promoted team.

“But they could also start slowly, so many are new. Clive will win them up for this and it could be a very tough game.

“We’ve got AmaTuks in the MTN8 quarter-final a week later. It’s a Barker double – Clive and Steve – it’s a tough start. They both organise their teams well, make sure they’re competitive.

“Clive’s team will be structured and organised. We’ve got Moroka Swallows early on as well. The only injury problems are Siyabonga Nkhosi’s calf injury and Keegan Richie went down yesterday with an aggravated Achilles tendon.

“And George Lebese is suspended from yellow cards which are hanging over from the season before.

“Apart from Orlando Pirates, all the teams like SuperSport United and Wits are trying to be like Platinum Stars, coming from off the radar with no pressure on them.

“People have invested a lot of money, that’s where the trouble will come from!”

The opening round:
TONIGHT        Mpumalanga Aces      20:00     Kaizer Chiefs
TOMORROW    Golden Arrows           15:00     Ajax Cape Town
TOMORROW    Moroka Swallows       15:00     University of Pretoria
TOMORROW    SuperSport United       20:15     Free State Stars
TOMORROW    Maritzburg United        20:15     Polokwane City
SUNDAY         Bloemfontein Celtic      15:00     Mamelodi Sundowns
SUNDAY         Platinum Stars              15:00     Bidvest Wits
BOLLOCKZ! my show on, airs every Thursday from 10am-noon. 

You can also follow me on for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal & Pray” column every Tuesday in

#BOLLOCKS is backed by - have a look at their site for my latest sports betting advice!