When Soweto giants collide

Stakes could not be higher for Chiefs and Pirates in huge derby showdown

Happy Jele of Orlando Pirates and Willard Katsande of Kaizer Chiefs during the Soweto Derby press conference at SuperSport Studios on February 27, 2020.
Happy Jele of Orlando Pirates and Willard Katsande of Kaizer Chiefs during the Soweto Derby press conference at SuperSport Studios on February 27, 2020.
Image: Lefty Shivambu

If Soweto derbies were decided by the composure of the respective coaches, Kaizer Chiefs would emerge victorious against Orlando Pirates at the FNB Stadium on Saturday (kickoff 3.30pm).  

Bucs coach Josef Zinnbauer appeared nervous at the promotional media conference in Johannesburg on Thursday.

By contrast, his Chiefs counterpart, Ernst Middendorp, was calm and composed.

Fortunately there is a bit more to winning SA’s most eagerly anticipated club showdown than the mental state of the teams’ respective coaches.

The stakes could not be higher this time round — Chiefs are four points clear of second-placed defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns at the top of the Absa Premiership, while Pirates are six points back in third.

Chiefs have wobbled with their defeat to Maritzburg United‚ followed by their exit from the Nedbank Cup on Saturday last week against Highlands Park at a rain-drenched Makhulong Stadium.

Pirates‚ in contrast‚ have been in rampant form under Zinnbauer‚ winning seven and drawing one league game in eight to become a title dark horse.

Zinnbauer, who will be in charge of his first derby, insisted that Pirates’ eyes were not firmly set on the title.

It was almost a  repeat of last season at about this time, when Pirates were competing for the league title with  Sundowns — and repeatedly claimed that they were not focusing on winning it.

The reality is, the Buccaneers are still in with a chance of winning the title despite Zinnbauer suggesting otherwise.

A victory against Chiefs on Saturday would see Bucs reducing the gap to three points‚ having played a game more‚ and establishing genuine title credentials that would have been unimaginable as they floundered in the first half of the season.

But Zinnbauer continued to downplay their title chances, saying  only that  he was  building a team for next season.

“The derby is a special game for us and the supporters. We will do our best to get three points for them,” Zinnbauer said yesterday.

“What’s important is to improve the team now for next season, nothing more; we are not focusing on winning the title, but to build the team.”

That sounded like mind games to Chiefs coach Ernst Middendorp who did not fall for it.

Instead, he responded by saying Zinnbauer was talking “nonsense”.

The 49-year-old Pirates coach, however, is well aware that maximum points for his side will be crucial in the title race.

“Six points is a lot, if we had another chance to play against Chiefs then maybe we will have a chance,” Zinnbauer said.

“I think Sundowns and Wits have more chance of winning the league than me.”

Middendorp, meanwhile, says he has not made a decision yet on who will play at  goalkeeper between Daniel Akpeyi and Itumeleng Khune.

Having previously said Bafana Bafana No 1 Khune would play in the Nedbank Cup‚ and Nigeria No 1 Akpeyi in the league‚ Middendorp yesterday said Khune may well be between the posts.

The coach was asked about a recent poll where the public voting favoured Khune between the posts.

“I have always‚ and it’s very crucial — I absolutely respect opinions‚” the Chiefs coach said.

“I absolutely always put it into the process of decision-making.

“But it’s always something where we have competence within our technical team to find a solution.

“I understand fully a certain emotional attachment into a certain type of player‚ and I really respect it.

“And probably he [Khune] is on the field. Why not? It’s one option.”

Asked for clarification if that meant a decision had not yet been made‚ Middendorp replied: “No‚ no‚ no. Today is Thursday.”

Akpeyi has been in form in Chiefs establishing a lead at the top of the Premiership.

But the Nigerian made a crucial error that led to Daylon Claasen’s first of two goals in two minutes as Chiefs lost 2-1 at home to Maritzburg a fortnight ago.

Khune has recently returned from long-term injury‚ and has played in the Nedbank Cup.

The Bafana stalwart‚ before two injury-ravaged seasons‚ had sometimes carried a struggling Chiefs in their unprecedented past four seasons without a trophy.

“It’s a very tough decision. Everybody should respect in the end the decision.

“And that’s it. And‚ ja‚ good‚” Middendorp said. — TimesLIVE


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