Cup of dreams may be overflowing
Nathi Maphumulo calls it his Cup of dreams, and it's easy to understand why.
Over the past decade, the security company owner has painstakingly run a club in the local amateur ranks and then the First Division with little fanfare and with even less funding.
There has been no sponsorship for his Nathi Lions and the players have suffered late payments on a number of occasions.
But now Maphumulo's outfit are on the verge of clinching a R1-million pay-day in the Nedbank Cup and a chance of making even more dough.
"I dream of R6-million," said the excited owner of the Umlazi-based club, whose men notably ousted Jomo Cosmos on penalties in the last-16 of the national knockout competition to set up a quarter-final date with fellow First Division side MP Black Aces in Witbank this weekend.
Incredibly, the winners of this game will be guaranteed to pocket a million rand in the semifinals, while the eventual champions get
R6-million and the runners-up R2,5-million.
"You know, to motivate the players, you talk about the main prize, not the quarterfinal prize.
"You talk about the future, not just the present, so that people look to the skies!"
The R400 000 that goes to losing quarterfinals is already the Lions' biggest award to date, with Mlungisi "Professor" Ngubane leading the technical side of things.
"You know," Maphumulo went on, "the Nedbank Cup is really a Cup of dreams. Where else would you get an opportunity to compete with Cosmos?
"We're rubbing shoulders with people we are only used to seeing on television.
"It's also a blessing in disguise for the First Division on the whole. Everybody under-estimated us, even the Premier Soccer League, but after this competition, companies will be more willing to sponsor the division. I can see our monthly grant going up to R300 000 at least, from R150 000."
Black Aces, who acquired the status of City Pillars in Limpopo last year and then moved base to Mpulamanga, have a far more experienced squad than Lions.
Their players include former top-flight stars Kabamba Musasa, Edelbert Dinha, Gift Kampamba and Mandla Zwane.
However, Maphumulo passionately believes his side's "greater hunger" will make up the difference at Atlantic Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
"I know our opponents have more experienced players and they can afford better salaries and bigger bonuses. But we're hungrier than them," he claimed.
"Cosmos had experienced players, but not hunger. When it came to the penalty shootout, our players ensured they were on target.
"We've gone through some difficult situations together, but they never exposed the club to the public for late salary payments and so on. I owe the players."
Indeed, he does.
Thanda Royals' battle to avoid the drop in their first season in the PSL continues on Wednesday night when they encounter Mamelodi Sundowns in a rescheduled match in Pretoria.
The game was initially set down for two weeks ago, but had to be moved because of Sundowns being involved in the African Champions League.
Now, coach Roger Palmgren's side are involved in their second match in five days, after they were thumped 3-1 by Golden Arrows on Saturday.
"After that loss, we all know we need three points badly," said Thanda manager Thabani Gumede on Wednesday.
"Amabhubesi" will have forward Bernard Parker back from suspension, but defender Japie Motale and midfielder July Mahlangu are banned.
Two other outstanding league matches on Wednesday are Free State Stars versus Ajax Cape Town, and BidVest Wits versus Platinum Stars.
Only the two Stars have an opportunity to jump more than two places in the standings.
Golden Arrows are hoping to play a friendly match against Maritzburg United this weekend, as they are officially off duty after making an early exit from the Nedbank Cup.
"We thought of organising a friendly against AmaZulu to keep the players active, but then realised they are involved in the Cup this weekend. We'll now try Maritzburg," said coach Manqoba Mngqithi.
Arrows' next league match will be against Cosmos at Orkney Stadium in a fortnight.