Cup final - who really wants it?Comment on this story
Johan Neeskens often bears the look of a man who is having his parade perpetually rained on from a great height.
If he happens upon a question he considers inappropriate, heaven help the deliverer, who tends to receive a death stare from the Dutch legend in direct competition with Darth Vader.
Perhaps the Neeskens scowl originated from the misfortune of the two World Cup finals he lost with the Oranje in 1974 and 1978. Who knows. Either way, the Sundowns coach will hope for better luck in a cup final this afternoon as his ‘Brazilians’ take on SuperSport United in the Nedbank Cup decider at Orlando Stadium (3pm).
If slightly less prestigious than a World Cup final, this should be a tremendous occasion, with an excellent crowd expected, as the city of Tshwane moves tempora-rily to Soweto.
Given that SuperSport’s fan base tends to amount to little more than the squad’s family and friends, expect Sundowns’ yellow legion to dominate the stands, though whether their side will do the same on the field is open to debate.
Sundowns blew yet another excellent chance to win the league title this season, winning just five of their final 15 league games, as Orlando Pirates instead surged to glory.
SuperSport also had their regrets at the end of the campaign, failing to capitalise on a superb start to the season, but a late surge did lift them a place above Sundowns into third.
The Brazilians’ last trophy was the 2008 Nedbank Cup, which is a poor effort from a side fuelled by the millions of Patrice Motsepe.
So it is safe to say that it is Neeskens’ side that will be carrying the most pressure this afternoon. SuperSport also have the boost of having beaten Sundowns in a league game on May 12, a Sibusiso Zuma goal giving Gavin Hunt’s men a 1-0 win.
“I think there is always a psychological advantage of knowing you beat the opposition a few weeks before,” said SuperSport television analyst and former Bafana Bafana striker Shaun Bartlett this week.
“They (SuperSport) have shown that they are well capable of absorbing pressure .. we know Sundowns’ attacking ability, but I think defensively they are vulnerable.”
Bartlett is expecting a close affair in Orlando this afternoon, but has picked SuperSport to emerge with the cup.
“It’s always tight between these two teams,” he said.
“It’s a tactical war. You are trying to make sure you don’t lose and that you grab the one or two opportunities that come your way. I am not foreseeing a very exciting final, like the (Uefa) Champions League final was boring. But the coach that goes in with the gameplan to win the trophy ends up getting it.
“With SuperSport and the way they are organised, I can see a tight game and 1-0 win.”
On the flipside, former Sundowns defender Matthew Booth believes the recent loss for the Brazilians could work to their advantage in Orlando.
“I think the fact that SuperSport won doesn’t bode well for them,” said Booth.
“I think psychologically that will mean Sundowns are better prepared and motivated. Normally when teams play quite close together in the league and cup it goes one way and then the other.”
So Booth thinks the Brazilians will take the Nedbank Cup “in a low scoring game”.
Neeskens will hope the former Bafana defender is right, and if Sundowns do triumph, we will surely see a rare grin from the Dutch maestro. One thing is for certain – only one side of Tshwane will be smiling tonight.