Fri Sep 22 08:09:37 CAT 2017

Downs' CAF run exposes flaws in PSL fixtures

By Nkareng Matshe | 2016-11-30 13:11:50.0

We've congratulated them, correctly fêted them as national heroes and the emblem on their kit has had a star emblazoned on it.

But Mamelodi Sundowns' CAF Champions League triumph is set to unleash untold chaos on the Premier Soccer League programme in the months ahead.

Perhaps it is exactly this looming chaos that our football requires for local teams, and authorities, to start taking seriously participation in continental competitions.

When the programme was drawn up in June, all manner of considerations and concessions were made, such as accommodating our national under-23 team's participation in the Rio Olympics, and next year's Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon.

But no one foresaw Sundowns going on to win the Champions League, and qualifying for the Fifa Club World Cup, taking place in Japan from December 8.

As a result, Sundowns - already several matches behind in the domestic programme - will arrive from Asia next month to find they have a lot of catching up to do.

On February 18-19, they are scheduled to play the CAF Super Cup against TP Mazembe, meaning their league match for that week will be postponed.

As they have already qualified for next year's Champions League, several other matches will fall away, although thankfully the Brazilians do not have to go through preliminaries.

There's also the Nedbank Cup, where a Sundowns progression to the latter stages could also be problematic.

Accepting that no one is at fault for the looming crisis as it could hardly have been envisaged - Sundowns only got to the Champions League group phase after AS Vita were disqualified - hard lessons now have to be drawn from this situation.

When they draw up the next fixture list, perhaps the PSL authorities should now say: "What if one of our teams goes all the way?"

One of the biggest problems with the PSL fixtures is the tendency to dedicate entire weekends to cup fixtures. It was great to see that this past weekend, the PSL managed to squeeze in the Sundowns v Highlands Park fixture on Sunday, a day after the Telkom Knockout semifinals.

This was a refreshing departure from the absurdity of one weekend in September, when there was a single domestic match (Cape Town City v Bidvest Wits) because that entire weekend had been set aside for the MTN8 semis.

When Sundowns and Wits qualified for the MTN8 final, again absurdly, their midweek league matches for that week were cancelled. Now both teams are behind in the schedule.

Of course, one fixture may not have made too much of a difference, but do we really need a six-week break in January when the Nations Cup is on, not least when Bafana Bafana are not even there?

A PSL insider told me suggestions were made to Sundowns to play some of their games during the break if Zimbabwe, who will have the biggest contingent of SA-based players, are eliminated early. Apparently this was rejected by the club.

So, what's the way forward? The PSL foresees the season ending only on June 17, but there's a Fifa international break two weeks before that.

A simple solution would be for the PSL to return to the CAF calendar (January to November), but that remains a pipe dream. Hopefully, though, Downs' success serves as an eye-opener leading to a lasting solution.

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