Sundowns can cap crazy run

NO ANSWERS: Johan Neeskens
NO ANSWERS: Johan Neeskens

IT IS extraordinary - even paradoxical - that Mamelodi Sundowns are going through their worst Premier Soccer League season, yet find themselves on the brink of their first major trophy since winning the Nedbank Cup four years ago.

The way Sundowns have blazed through the Telkom Knockout, it is as if it had been played on another planet. They have scored four goals and conceded none. This is in sharp contrast to their Premier League run, where they have collected a measly two wins from 12 games.

At Moses Mabhida Stadium tomorrow there awaits a confident, self-assured and fearless Bloemfontein Celtic side that has defied the odds - even gravity at times - to create an opportunity to hoist silverware for the first time since the 2005 SA Supa 8 (now the MTN8).

With the field more level than it has ever been, both teams will be hungry for success. Celtic will look at Sundowns as possible easy meat, wanting to inflict more pain on a team that has battled for league goals, clean sheets and confidence. Sundowns might feel the same way about Celtic.

Celtic endeared themselves to neutral fans when they showed breathtaking belief to oust defending champions Orlando Pirates on penalties in the quarterfinals after they had looked dead and buried at 3-1 down with two minutes to go before full-time.

Celtic's road to the final was by lit up by two Joel Mogorosi moments of brilliance - an overhead equaliser against Pirates and a bullet header from outside the box to beat Free State Stars 3-2 in the semifinal.

While Celtic's leading marksman Lennox Bacela is expected to torment the Brazilians, Ruzaigh Gamildien and Letladi Madubanya will also be players to watch. And Patrick Tignyemb will keep goal jealously.

But Sundowns striker Eleazar Rodgers and winger Anthony Laffor, the two players who have consistently netted during these tough times, could cleave openings in the Celtic defence, especially if Teko Modise unleashes his deadly through-passes.

Sundowns may have won the league battle 1-0 in Bloemfontein last Sunday, but the war is most certainly not over. Both coaches opted to rest their pivotal men, sacrificing league progress in the hope of catching the big fish.

Coach Johan Neeskens will not look at the history books, which show Sundowns were beaten by Kaizer Chiefs on penalties the last time they made the final of this competition in 2006, and last won it in 1999, back when it was known as the Rothmans Cup.

Neeskens reiterated that he would only step down if he failed to win a trophy this season. Although he can forget about the league title, winning this cup could give him a sense of accomplishment plus the sweet satisfaction of silencing the critics.

The Brazilians slayed University of Pretoria, AmaZulu and SuperSport United on their way to their second cup final in seven months, following their Nedbank Cup final loss to Pretoria rivals SuperSport.

There are no suspended players from either side, there are therefore no excuses.

  •  Kick-off 8.15pm