Durban – Bloemfontein Celtic coach Clinton Larsen has warned that the poor league form of Mamelodi Sundowns will be meaningless when the two sides lock horns in the Telkom Knockout final in Durban on Saturday night.
The match, the second cup final of the domestic football season, offers two of South Africa’s bigger clubs a chance to end lengthy title droughts.
Sundowns, in particular, will be desperate for the R4.25-million prize, having not won a trophy since 2008, while the last of Celtic’s two major crowns came in 2005.
The Brazilians, one of the poorest teams in the Premiership this season, somehow managed to evade their league form in their run to the cup final.
They have managed just two wins in the league campaign, one of them against an under-strength Celtic team last Sunday that lifted them off the bottom of the log.
“It’s going to be a hell of a game. We’re coming up against such a multi-talented team,” Larsen said ahead of the match.
“We are not reading too much into where Sundowns are positioned in the league. It’s not a true reflection of the quality of that team.”
Underdogs Siwelele are the competition’s top scorers, having netted eight times in the first three rounds, while their more fancied opponents boast the best defence after keeping three consecutive clean sheets.
Larsen had already spoken about the hunger of his side during the build-up, emphasising the desire they showed in quarterfinal and semi-final victories over defending champions Orlando Pirates and derby rivals Free State Stars respectively.
Those performances drew plenty of plaudits for their attacking style and Larsen was hoping they could maintain that charge.
“We would like to keep our scoring record and score more goals than our opponents,” he said.
“We are not worried about how many goals we have conceded or how many the opposition has conceded.
“If we can show the fighting spirit we’ve shown in the past few weeks, we’ll have every chance of winning.”
Sundowns boss Johan Neeskens admitted they were facing “a completely different Celtic” from the team they beat at the weekend.
For the Dutch coach, the match represents a real chance to at least silence some of his critics after their poor start to the campaign.
At the beginning of the season, he said he would resign if the Pretoria outfit, who lost the Nedbank Cup final seven months ago, failed to win a trophy.
Reminded of his statement this week, he said: “I said that if we do not win any trophy this season, then I will step down.
“It is still too early. I am not going to change, I am the same person. Whether we win or not I am still the same person.”
Sundowns are two-time former winners of the competition, but those titles date back to 1990 and 1999, with the club also finishing as runners-up on three other occasions.
“The build-up to the game has been very good,” Neeskens said.
“I don’t have any nerves. It's a normal game for me with no more pressure than any other game.” – Sapa