Santos should see Sunday’s Nedbank Cup quarter-final clash away at AmaZulu as a timely and good distraction rather than a burden.
It’s time for the People’s Team to spend some energy on something other than worrying about where their next point in the league will come from.
The players look tired, both physically and mentally. They know they are in a dogfight to stay in the Premiership, and that has taken its toll on their performances on the field.
Since their thrilling display against Orlando Pirates, they haven’t put together a solid 90-minute outing at home. Most of the players are playing within themselves, and they just don’t look like a confident bunch.
The allure of cup football, though, has the ability to make one forget about league troubles. A one-off game away from home could just be the tonic to rejuvenate the Cape side.
And what’s even better is that they don’t have any mid-week league fixtures to worry about, while training sessions are bound to be more fun and include a contest to see who will take the penalties (if it goes that far) against AmaZulu.
On the other hand, it might be a distraction, as it turned out to be in 1993, when Santos made the final of the Coke Cup, only to be relegated.
But a cup win over AmaZulu and a semi-final berth could also give the Cape side some renewed vigour and boost the squad’s confidence.
Santos haven’t won a match since that balmy night at Athlone Stadium when they hammered the Buccaneers 3-0.
To be honest, they haven’t delivered a similar sort of performance since. And nobody has been able to answer the question why Santos can’t play like that all the time.
It might be about the “big-game mentality”, because players based in the Mother City always seem to lift their performance for the “big three” – Kaizer Chiefs, Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns.
AmaZulu don’t have the stature of Chiefs or Pirates in the local game. But because the tie is a cup quarter-final, Sunday’s clash could possibly awaken another top performance from the People’s Team.
In that Pirates game, Santos held on to the ball like it was a round chocolate Easter egg. And when you keep hold of the ball, instead of aimlessly kicking it away, you create chances.
In their last few games, Santos have been treating the ball like stale bread, and have been punished for their carelessness.
Yesterday at the team’s training session, there was a particular emphasis on keeping possession under pressure.
The fear of losing and, probably more importantly, losing ground in the league could be why the Santos players “don’t want to play football” and are hoofing the ball away.
Because the situation is different, Santos may take off the shackles of possible relegation and have a go. They need some injection in their play to give their fans some hope that there is still fight left in them.
And who knows, if they can do it on Sunday, it might be the start of a glorious run to stay up with the big boys of South African football.
And, while they are at it, they could have a crack at winning the club’s first title in almost a decade.
NEDBANK CUP FIXTURES
Saturday: Mamelodi Sundowns v Maritzburg United (Lucas Moripe Stadium, 3pm), Kaizer Chiefs v Free State Stars (Peter Mokaba Stadium, 8.15pm).
Sunday: SuperSport United v Jomo Cosmos (Peter Mokaba Stadium, 3pm), AmaZulu v Santos (Princess Magogo Stadium, 3pm).