AMONG football fans, Soweto is synonymous with epic battles involving Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.
But today the Orlando Stadium hosts an encounter of different proportions and nuances. Rhulani Mokwena, the son of a family of Pirates greats, who had a stint as assistant coach and coach at Bucs recently, is back to fight for points as Mamelodi Sundowns coach.
He returns as someone who’s willing to take the gloves against a Pirates club that ‘raised him’, given the fact that his grandfather, father and uncle donned the black and white jersey of the club with distinction. He wants to prove that his current team Sundowns are worthy of leading the table after the fourth round of league matches, and that last season’s triumphant outing was no fluke.
Mokwena might also want to prove that he’s no island despite the apologised for rift between him and co-coach Manqoba Mngqithi.
After all, he and Mngqithi successfully delivered Sundowns’ 11th championship last season and fourth in a row.
There is another dimension to this afternoon’s battle: Pirates are trialling the system of co-coaches while Sundowns have actually proven that the experiment can work with three co-coaches.
Mandla Ncikazi and Fadlu Davids are holding the fort at the Sea Robbers. The duo may be keen to prove to their chairman Irvin Khoza that two is better than three. So, there’s pressure on both benches.
Early this week, Mokwena confirmed that they’ve dominated local football due to the resources including deep pockets and infrastructure at their disposal.
Pirates may not have the deep pockets but they’ve got the gems, especially in the midfield.
The seamless adaptation of Goodman Mosele in Pirates’ engine room has made the team tick going forward and defensively. Mosele has scored two goals in four league starts.
As a result coach Hugo Broos called up Mosele for Bafana Bafana ahead of Sundowns’ Rivaldo Coetzee for the Fifa World Cup qualifiers against Ethiopia next month.
That has set tongues wagging but the time for the two men to settle that debate could be today when the they battle it out in the heart of the midfield.
Sundowns and Pirates are enjoying purple patches after two back-to-back wins in the league. That has somehow shone a negative spotlight on Chiefs who are crumbling.
Not only have Chiefs lost to Mamelodi Sundowns, a team they are eager to “knock off their perch” according to coach Stuart Baxter, but they also lost to upstarts Royal AM last weekend.
It was an embarrassing defeat because
Royal AM had appeared to be overwhelmed by the demands of the top flight after buying the status of Bloemfontein Celtic a week before the league commenced.
That’s why Chiefs’ 4-1 loss raised questions as to whether Baxter was the right signing for the hot seat after the team’s five-year trophy drought.
After all, Chiefs appeared to have done enough to equip him (Baxter) with the required playing personnel, agreeing to his signings to bolster the squad.
Tomorrow afternoon Chiefs will square off with Marumo Gallants, a side that’s rock bottom in the log standings but which qualified for the second round of the CAF Confederation Cup qualifiers.
Chiefs will wear the favourites cap but they can’t leave any stone unturned. Baxter, after all, needs the results.