Arguably the most anticipated game of football in recent times took place at the Moses Mabhida Stadium this past Saturday. The MTN8 final was always going to be a major attraction, but the fact that it was a Soweto Derby final made it extra spicy. The two teams, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, came into it playing their best football in a while, although the former had that little extra edge, having won all their games thus far this season.
Let me confess, I did not expect coach Stuart Baxter to start with the lineup he did. But I was impressed. In a cup final, you would expect coaches to go with experience more than anything.
When I saw the team sheets, I was stunned when I didn’t see Siphiwe Tshabalala and Bernard Parker in the starting eleven. Instead the Brit started with his season revelation of George Lebese, Mandla Masango and George Maluleka. This is what makes Amakhosi such a good team this season. They are able to pick and choose, making it hard for opposition to predict their game.
On the side of the Buccaneers, it was pretty obvious who is going to start and how they would play. We knew that Thabo Matlaba would start after coming back from suspension. We knew that Sifiso Myeni, Daine Klate, Oupa Manyisa, and Issa Sarr would be in midfield. And importantly, we knew that Kermit Erasmus would lead the attack and be replaced by Lehlohonolo Majoro after an hour of football. So that made it sort of easy to plan against them.
So let’s go to the game itself. The pace was high and the two teams were playing attacking football. There was no holding back, with wave after wave of attack. It was always going to be good watching two of the best holding midfielders in the country try and break down attacks from the opposition, and Willard Katsande and Issa Sarr did that with some aplomb in the opening stages.
Then came the Chiefs goal. And with the gap not there in open play, it was going to take a set piece. Both teams can be credited for this goal, obviously one positively and the other negatively. Firstly, it was a well executed free-kick by Chiefs.
‘Yeye’ Letsholonyane just made that decoy run from an off-side position, creating some sort of confusion in the box, while the taller fellas attacked the ball, and the ball fell on the head of captain on the day Tefu Mashamaite, who easily put it passed a flat-footed Senzo Meyiwa. This was no fluke, it was straight from the training ground. The same thing happened again in the second half. A similar set piece where the ball was lifted in that box by Chiefs and ‘Yeye’ again made that decoy run. It nearly resulted in a second, with Meyiwa beaten again, only for Kingston Nkhatha’s shot to hit the cross-bar.
It seemed that Pirates had not learnt from the first goal, and it would have looked bad for Meyiwa to concede the same way twice. The reason I said the two teams had a hand in the goal is that Pirates captain Siya Sangweni was supposed to stick with Mashamaite, knowing what he can do in the air. He didn’t. Before he knew it, the centre half was gone.
In his defence, he maybe expected his keeper to come out and punch, which he should have done. So this raised questions about their communication in the box. From there on the Glamour Boys just took control of the match. They just looked better on the ball. They controlled the pace, they were calm, the looked better prepared. They put in ‘Shabba’ and Parker, and Pirates must have known things were not about to get better for them. The more they looked at the clock, the more their desperation showed with too many unforced errors, like failing to kill the ball dead when they got it and making room for possession turnover.
One man that was a star for Chiefs that day was Brilliant Khuzwayo. Not only did he deny the Buccaneers a goal on a couple of occasions, but he was commanding that back four. There was that harmony that people expect when Itumeleng Khune is between the sticks. I must say I was disappointed that Pirates did not exploit Khuzwayo’s inexperience when it comes to such an important game. They let him become comfortable and gain confidence. They started having those shots with ten minutes left, and they were all off target.
Overall I don’t think anyone can say Chiefs did not deserve this victory. Pirates is a good team with good players. They did not play to the best of their abilities this Saturday, but I have no doubt that they will come right back get back to their best. Chiefs were just a class above them, and rightfully sit on the throne at the village in Naturena.