The post Christmas break has, in previous seasons, brought with it lackluster performances from teams in the ABSA premiership as a result of their inability to maintain the same form they displayed prior to the recess. But not this season, because throughout January, we saw the likes of Chiefs, Pirates, Ajax and defending champs Supersport make their intentions clear as far as clinching the coveted championship come May.
Teams likes Pirates and Chiefs were given a little chance of contending for the league beginning of the season, but they went through January without losing a match and in the process they won 3 and drew 1 respectively. And the battle for premiership survival has also heated up and the ‘experts’ of the beautiful game have been uncertain and not willing to put their heads on the block as to who, amongst Celtic, Bay United, T R Zulu, Amazulu and possibly Free State Stars, will get the automatic chop and who will have to slug it out with National First Division teams for top flight football’s lucrative status.
The battle for promotion in the National First Division is as intense as the political tension between the ANC and IFP in the 1990s and Israeli-Palestinians relations combined. It’s an open secrete that running a tam in the NFD is a financial strain to the respective administrators. What with teams only receiving a R300 000 grant a month. On top of that the NFD does not have a sponsor and they are not represented on the PSL board. But even with these crippling impediments the teams strive to make it to the greener pastures of the PSL. With only 4 games remaining for most teams, the fight has intensified. The Inland stream is a 3 way horse race between Jomos Cosmos leading the pack followed by University of Pretoria and Winners Park. The situation in the Coastal is some what different with Karara Kicks, sister team of Free State Stars, looking more likely to take pole position and hounded by African Warriors, FC Cape Town and Ikapa Sporting FC all on 25 points respectively.
The transfer period of 2008/09 has been arguably the most exciting and impressive since the inception of the PSL in 1996. With the ‘biggest losers’ being, the financially loaded, Sundowns. They lost Lerato Chabangu to their arch city rivals Supersport, Dillon Shepherd and the hugely talented but wayward Mbulelo Mabizela going to Platinum Stars. While Josta Dladla being part of a swap deal between Chiefs and his former employers, with Downs taking the ineffective Thuso Phala. Orlando Pirates also had a swap deal of their own, when they gave the champions Excellent Walaza in return for the tormenting Katlego Mashego, who has been an instant hit with the Buccaneers’ faithful. Chiefs’ signing of Abia Nale from Golden Arrows has bore fruition immediately and has seen the dreadlocked player garner 3 man of match awards in succession for his new team. Eye brows were raised when Chiefs announced that they had loaned Gert Schalwyk to Celtic and he had a grand opening for the Masele supporters by scoring a hatrick in his first game. Diyo Sibisi sold by Free State Stars to Sundowns and he also scored a winner on debut. Matthew Booth renewed his love affair with Sundowns on the last day of the transfer period. Other players signed by Supersport are Norman Smith from T R Zulu, Mulondo Sikhwivulu from Black Leopards and Lance Davis. All the transfer that took place involved money beyond one million and that’s a sign that the financial injection the PSL administrators have been crying about is materializing and hopefully that will translate to better salaries for the players. Joel Santana’s Bafana Bafana have managed to string 5 consecutive wins. A feat never achieved before, not even by the Great Class of 1996 under the guidance of Cliver ‘The Dog’ Baker. In the match against Zambia, the team indicated that they are building up the much needed momentum and the midfield linchpins Lefa Tsutsulupa and Kagiso Dikgacio were doing the ‘dirty’ work and allowing Teko Modise and Simphiwe Tshabalala the necessary room to dictate the flow of the match with their intelligent passes. The striking department remains our area of concern. The coach need to deploy another target man besides Benni McCarthy esoecially when he is using the 4-5-1 formation, because Mabhudi Khenyaza is not the type striker who excels at that role but his work rate is impressive.
To all those who have followed South African soccer’s rivalry with Nigeria, you would know that South Africa had never beaten the West Africans until January 2009. Amajita, South Africa’s u20s, under the tutelage of Serame Lotsoaka, brought the perennial reign of Nigeria over SA to a halt. The setting was the African Youth Championships in Kigali, Rwanda and the result was 2-1 win. Amajita had previously beaten another West African nation of Ivory Coast but they lost in the semi finals to the eventual winner Ghana. They, Amajita, along with Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria will represent Africa at the World Youth Championship to be held later this year in Egypt. We sincerely hope that this team will be nurtured so that they gradually move on and represent South Africa at the 2012 Olympic Games in London and the World Cup in Brazil 2014.
The Mtn Caf Champions League has kicked off with the preliminary rounds and South Africa is represented by champions Supersport and Ajax Cape Town and Sundowns will contest the Caf Confederations Cup ( not to be confused with the FIFA Confederations Cup) by virtue of winning the Nedbank cup last season. The world’s most prestigious club tournament the Uefa Champions League makes a welcomed return from its winter break and what mouth watering and spine chilling awaits the fans. With Serie A champions, Inter Milan taking on the English, European and World champs, Manchester United and 5 times winner Liverpool will rekindle relations with 9 times victors Real Madrid. While last year’s losers Chelsea will square off with The Old Lady of Italian football Juventus amongst other clashes that are set to equally delight the fans. So place your bets glentlemen (and ladies) it’s going to be quite a case of immovable objects meeting unstoppable forces.