Will Benni McCarthy's AmaZulu troops bring more misery to Orlando Pirates in crunch league outing?
AmaZulu coach Benni McCarthy is hoping his well-rested charges are ready to fight for all the points they need to finish second on the league standings and earn a Caf Champions League spot for the first time ever in the Durban club's history.
The second-placed Usuthu face Orlando Pirates at the Orlando Stadium on Thursday in a match that will have a huge impact on who finishes behind log leaders Mamelodi Sundowns‚ who now need just three points in their last three games to win the championship for a record fourth successive time.
“I hope the boys will be fresh and hungry.
"The next three games will be three cup finals for us‚” McCarthy said.
“[It is the first time] the club is in this situation‚ [but] it’s better to be in this situation (second spot) than to chase. We have it in our own hands [securing the runner-up spot] and it will depend on how serious we are.”
AmaZulu had a remarkable 16-game unbeaten before suffering a surprise 1-0 league defeat against Baroka in Durban in their last match. They could finish on 59 points if they win their remaining three matches against Pirates on Thursday‚ Swallows FC on June 2 at home and away to KwaZulu-Natal rivals Maritzburg United on June 5.
Usuthu have a bit of an advantage over the other sides with a mathematical chance of finishing second - they are Pirates‚ Lamontville Golden Arrows and Swallows - as they already have 50 points in the bag.
McCarthy said winning Thursday's match against fourth-placed Pirates‚ who can only collect 55 points if they win all their remaining four matches‚ will be key to ensuring that they wrap up what has been a remarkable season in style.
AmaZulu have never finished above seventh place on the standings in the Premier Soccer League era but have already exceeded all expectations under the club's new management led by chairman Sandile Zungu‚ the arrival of McCarthy as coach and the signing of several key players.
While McCarthy has not completely given up hope of snatching the title from under the noses of Sundowns‚ McCarthy conceded that the destiny of the championship is in the long-time leaders' hands and the best Usuthu can realistically fight for is second.
“Maybe now it’s a little bit late to challenge Sundowns (for the title)‚ but we have to do it for ourselves. We have to do it for our families and for the faithful AmaZulu fans.
“It wasn’t by chance that we played the football that we played and won the  matches we won. We’ve worked extremely hard and come Thursday‚ hopefully the boys have the same desire and hunger to want to win.
“But we have prepared ourselves nicely and we’re ready for Thursday. We hope it’s a good encounter‚ but it’s an encounter in which we have to do all we can to fight for that second place finish.”
Pirates will still be reeling after they were embarrassed by Morocco side Raja Casablanca in the Caf Confederation Cup on Sunday.
The Moroccans dumped the Bucs out of the continental tournament after handing the hapless Soweto side a 4-0 hiding‚ ensuring a 5-1 triumph on aggregate.