KO final tribute to icon Madiba

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Orlando Pirates coach Roger De Sa (left) and Platinum Stars Allan Freese with the Telkom Knockout trophy. The final will go ahead at Mbombela Stadium as a tribute to iconic statesman Nelson Mandela. Picture: Lefty Shivambu

Johannesburg - So fierce was Nelson Mandela’s love of sport and astute his appreciation of its values in unifying a nation, it seems entirely appropriate that tonight’s Telkom Knockout final between Orlando Pirates and Platinum Stars will go ahead as planned.

The Premier Soccer League announced on Friday that neither the final nor any other PSL game this weekend would be postponed, following the news of Madiba’s passing.

All clubs have been asked by the league to wear black armbands, and a moment’s silence will take place ahead of kick-off in honour of the republic’s first democratically elected president.

At a packed Mbombela Stadium, the tears are likely to flow in the moments before the final starts (8.15pm kickoff), and Pirates coach Roger De Sa on Friday paid a strong tribute to the hero of a nation.

“The first time I met Madiba was in 1993 over lunch at a Bafana training camp,” said the former national team goalkeeper.

“There was definitely an aura about the man that was not normal. He was unbelievable.

“No words will ever describe probably the greatest human being who ever lived in our lifetime. From my side, all I can say is a big ‘Thank You’.

“I played so many games where he walked on the field and shook all our hands, and so many games where he watched, and others that he didn’t watch.

“Now we know that he will definitely be watching this one.”

De Sa acknowledged that the moment’s silence before tonight’s game would carry a heavier emotional charge than most.

“There are often moments of silence for different people, but … this is a lot more,” he said.

And hopefully the Buccaneers and Dikwena can give a fitting tribute to a man who played such a major role in South African football success, from victory at the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations, to bringing the World Cup to South Africa in 2010.

The game has all the makings of a fascinating encounter, with Pirates hoping to overturn their defeat to Stars in the MTN8 final, and finally bring some silverware home in their third showpiece of the season, following defeat to Al Ahly in the African Champions League.

Dikwena, meanwhile, are the surprise package of the new campaign, in the sense that, though they finished as runners-up in the Absa Premiership last season, few predicted further success once Cavin Johnson left the club to join SuperSport.

Allan Freese, however, has arguably done even better, bringing one trophy back to Phokeng already, with another just a game away.

“I consider what he has done in the last couple of months, since taking over the team, as nothing short of fantastic,” said De Sa on his opposite number.

The mind games this week have seen Pirates try to play themselves as the underdogs, a move dismissed by Freese, though the Platinum Stars coach was confident enough to say that his side did not need any special plans for any of the Buccaneers’ “big-name” players.

“We are not going to pay special attention to anyone … we will come out and play. They have players that are in the (South African) national team, but we have players who play for Botswana (Mogakolodi Ngele), and Malawi (Robert Ng’ambi) and we have Tsepho (Gumede) who plays for the national team.”

Ng’ambi is certainly an early candidate for player of the season, a feisty midfielder who also contributes his share of goals, seven already in the current season.

And Gumede’s partnership with Benson Mhlongo is one of the more impressive central defensive combinations of the campaign.

Pirates, however, will hope that after all their near-misses so far this season, this is finally their time.

“The mood is good, the mindset is good,” added De Sa.

“I definitely saw an improvement in training (this week), it is not every week we get a full week to train.

“We are happy to be in another cup final and to have another opportunity to win.”

At a Glance:

* Stars and Pirates will meet in a second successive cup final when they clash in the Telkom Knockout (TKO) final

* Pirates beat Mpumalanga Black Aces, Golden Arrows and SuperSport United en route to the final. They needed extra-time to overcome Matsatsantsa in the last four, with goals scored by Manyisa and Jali

* The Soweto giants have played 23 TKO matches since the tournament’s inception in 2006, with 17 wins, three draws and three losses. They have not won any of the three penalty shoot-outs they have been involved in

* Bucs’ best showing in the TKO era was in the 2011/12 season when they won the tournament, beating Bidvest Wits 3-1 in the final

* In League Cup history, Pirates have won the tournament once (2012) and been runners-up six times (1987, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2008, 2010)

* Stars beat Maritzburg United, Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs to reach the final. They beat Amakhosi 1-0 in the semi-finals thanks to a first professional goal from Semenya

* The Rustenburg team have played 14 TKO matches since 2006, with seven wins, three draws and four defeats. They have won one of the three penalty shoot-outs they have been involved in.

* Dikwena’s best showing in the TKO era is winning the tournament in 2006. Reaching the final this season is their best showing since then

* In League Cup history, Stars also reached the final in 2003, when they were still known as Silver Stars, but were beaten 2-0 by Chiefs

* In head-to-heads, Pirates and Stars have met in just four previous cup matches. Bucs have two outright wins and Dikwena one, while one was drawn and went to penalties. Stars won the shoot-out 3-1

* That drawn match in Durban is also the teams’ most recent meeting – the MTN8 final from earlier this season

* This will be the first meeting of the teams in the TKO, and as two former champions it is fitting that they will clash in the final. – Backpage

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