Usuthu keen to bolster status as kings of KZN

Pablo Franco Martin is hoping AmaZulu maintain their dominance over their KZN rivals tonight when Usuthu face Richards Bay. | BackpagePix

Pablo Franco Martin is hoping AmaZulu maintain their dominance over their KZN rivals tonight when Usuthu face Richards Bay. | BackpagePix

Published Apr 30, 2024


Smiso Msomi

AmaZulu head coach Pablo Franco Martin has audaciously claimed the fief of KwaZulu-Natal as Usuthu’s own due to their continued dominance over their provincial neighbours in the 2023/24 campaign.

Those bragging rights could continue tonight when AmaZulu battle KZN rivals Richards Bay at the King Zwelithini Stadium at 7.30pm, as they eyeball each other in an effort to snatch away what would be valuable points towards their own causes.

Hendrick Ekstein of AmaZulu celebrates after scoring against Chippa United at Moses Mabhida Stadium this past weekend. | BackpagePix

AmaZulu revitalised their hopes of securing Top 8 football next season with a fiery win last time out against Chippa United and now sit just two points off those ambitions in 11th. One of the biggest challenges placed on Martin’s lap when he arrived at the start of the season was the need for Usuthu to establish regional hegemony.

The Spanish-born coach quickly immersed himself in the culture before going on to establish and sustain an unbeaten record against his local adversaries in all competitions.

The 43-year-old mentor, fresh off victory against the Chilli Boys, was open to discussing his next opponent and quickly waved away any suggestions that Usuthu might offer Richards Bay a route to top-flight safety.

Hendrick Ekstein of AmaZulu scored by firing in an injury-time penalty, which secured a 2-1 win over Chippa United. | BackpagePix

Martin highlighted the importance of his men retaining their excellent provincial record and how it would aid their progression towards bigger aspirations.

“We are here to favour ourselves, not to do favours for anyone,” he said.

“The motivation (to win) is there without the coach having to say anything because if you remember last season, AmaZulu played eight derbies and got four draws and four losses. So far this season, we’ve played, I’m not sure how many, but won four and drew two.”

“So, right now we are the best team in KwaZulu-Natal in that mini-league and this is something that’s important to the club, the president and the fans and for us as players and coaches, it’s a matter of pride.”

In his first season in charge at the Durban-based club, Martin has taken AmaZulu to the semi-finals of the Carling Knockout Cup and into the last eight of the Nedbank Cup for the first time since 2010.

Having fallen short of their top-four hopes, Martin and his men have now set their sights on next season’s MTN8 competition where they would to replicate their journey to their 2022 final or to go one step further.

Vusumuzi Vilakazi of Richards Bay has a five-point buffer over Cape Town Spurs to work with in the battle to remain in the DStv Premiership next season. | BackpagePix

The Natal Rich Boyz, meanwhile, have the anxiety-filled task of attempting to avoid the dreaded drop from the top flight of South African football.

Having raised the roof in uMlazi with a memorable win over Kaizer Chiefs the previous week, Richards went on to slump to a loss against relegation rivals Cape Town Spurs last time out.

Although with a five-point buffer over the Urban Warriors in hand, that result could prove detrimental if Richards Bay drops points against Usuthu and Spurs win their match against Polokwane City tonight.

Head coach Vusumuzi Vilakazi will hope his group can quickly shake off their Cape blues with an emotionally taxing task next on the horizon.