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Celtic, Downs final – a knockout looms

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Second-half goals from Eleazar Rodgers and Teko Modise helped Mamelodi Sundowns book their place in the Telkom Knockout semifinals. Photo by Anesh Debiky / Gallo Images

If performances such as the dress rehearsal between Bloemfontein Celtic and Mamelodi Sundowns at the weekend await the crowds this weekend, the Telkom Knockout final will be a mouth-watering affair.

With a number of regular players absent due to injury or fear of suspension, Sundowns and Celtic still put on a decent show in a match that saw the Brazilians claim a rare victory over Celtic.

Richard Henyekane’s solitary goal gave Sundowns the psychological edge over Celtic ahead of the Telkom Knockout final between the two sides at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Saturday.

Sundowns coach Johan Neeskens, under tremendous pressure for most of the season, is over the moon with his side’s recent performances.

“We are improving. Out of our seven or eight games now, we have lost only one. We lost one against Orlando Pirates, we drew three and we won four, including the Telkom game.

“At least there’s improvement compared to the first seven or eight games that we played in the league. That must give everyone confidence,” said Neeskens.

Neeskens and his counterpart Clinton Larsen said they had rested key players at the weeeknd with the final in mind.

Downs captain Teko Modise, Nyasha Mushekwi, Anthony Laffor and Elias Pelemble did not play in Sunday’s match due to injury or fear of suspension.

And Larsen saved Thabo Nthethe, Limbikani Mzava, John Arwuah and Ruzaigh Gamildien for the final.

Neeskens said he didn’t want to take any risks.

“It was a great opportunity for other players to show what they can do. Richard Henyekane did a terrific job. Samuel Julies, Themba Zwane, Hlompho Ke-kana and Edward Manqele also played well,” said Neeskens.

“I had to change some players, some because of injuries. You don’t want to risk anything. Both teams played a lot of games. At least now you have six days to prepare for the final.”

Larsen echoed Neeskens’ sentiments, saying he was resting some of his big players for the tournament.

“We had couple of knocks. Mzava, our right back, was out [injured]. We didn’t want to risk him. Our two central defenders were on three bookings and we didn’t want to risk them.

“Arwuah got a knock and Gamildien was on three yellows, so we didn’t want to take a chance.”

Celtic have not won a trophy since claiming the 2005 SAA Supa 8. So the men from the City of Roses will be out to get their hands on the trophy to end their seven-year drought and to reward their supporters.

“Very few supporters do what Celtic supporters do. That’s why players are going to fight tooth and nail next weekend to give them something to shout about.

“We will do everything to win it,” said Larsen.

“Fortunately for us we rested some players. They should be fresh for Saturday’s game. Hopefully it will be a spectacle for the supporters,” he added.

The perennial underachievers from Chloorkop are expected to give it their all in a quest to halt several seasons of drought that have plagued the richly assembled side.

The last time Sundowns won a trophy was in 2008 when they lifted the Nedbank Cup.

With their financial muscle, four years is like an eternity for those associated with the club owned by Patrice Motsepe. – Pretoria News


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