Sideshows add spice to Nedbank Cup semifinals
This weekend's Nedbank Cup semifinals present a last-chance saloon, an unwelcome distraction, an opportunity to bow out on a high and a shot at history for the four sides competing in South Africa's FA Cup.
Orlando Pirates travel to KwaMashu to face Lamontville Golden Arrows on Sunday afternoon, but before then Chippa United host SuperSport United in Mdantsane on Saturday.
The same two sides met in the league on Wednesday, when a desperate Chippa moved themselves out of the relegation zone with a thumping 3-0 success over a depleted SuperSport.
Dean Furman, Michael Boxall, Jeremy Brockie, Clayton Daniels and Kingston Nkhatha were all rested for the game and will return to boost the Pretoria side. Bafana Bafana striker Bradley Grobler did return off the bench for his first minutes since November after a recurring groin injury.
Chippa coach Dan Malesela, recently returned after "special leave" as the side continued to battle in his absence, has admitted that the Nedbank Cup is something of an unwelcome distraction for his team, whose sole focus really in the closing weeks is keeping their top-flight status and avoiding what would be a disastrous relegation for the club given their cushy deal with the Port Elizabeth municipality relies on top-flight football.
SuperSport are the current holders of the Nedbank Cup and would love to bid farewell to coach Stuart Baxter by retaining that trophy before he returns full-time to the post of South Africa national team coach.
The club have picked up a special affinity for the competition and since winning the title in 2012, have lost just three of their previous 25 games in the tournament. Orlando Pirates are seeking to salvage something from what has been a dismal campaign as their hopes of qualifying for the top eight were effectively ended with another dour 0-0 draw at home to Ajax Cape Town on Wednesday.
They need Ajax to lose to bottom side Baroka FC at home on the final day, and then defeat Golden Arrows in Durban in a repeat of their Nedbank Cup quarterfinal, all the while hoping in-form Platinum Stars don't beat SuperSport United.
And even then they have to make up a five-goal swing on Ajax on goal-difference. It all seems a bit unlikely.
But victory in the Nedbank Cup would be redemption of sorts and their recent record against semifinal opponents Golden Arrows is magnificent.
In the 16 matches played between the pair since 2010, Pirates have won 15 and already have two successes this campaign.
New Swedish coach Kjell Jonevret has yet to convince since arriving in the club and in many respects winning this competition would be huge for his future prospects. Golden Arrows have already secured a first ever semifinal in the competition and to lift the trophy would write the names of this side into club folklore.
Their only previous trophy success was when they lifted the MTN8 in 2009, beating Ajax 6-0 in the most one-sided cup final in South African football history.