at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
You wait ages for one, and then two come along at once. This is what they say of London buses, but it might also be applicable to Orlando Pirates’ recent stranglehold on the Absa Premiership.
The Buccaneers ended a seven-season itch when they lifted the league title in 2011 and then, just like that, beat off the competition to defend their crown last season. Add in another (10-year) drought-ending flurry of knockout trophies, and with two successive domestic trebles, Pirates have comfortably established themselves as the current powerhouse of the local game.
Now the Buccaneers can look to write themselves into the record books, as the first side from Gauteng to win three Premier Soccer League titles on the trot, thereby repeating the feats of Mamelodi Sundowns between 1997 and 2000, and SuperSport United between 2007 and 2010. Who knows, maybe they can even go from a “Double Treble”, as the front page of their website proudly exclaims, to a “Treble Treble”.
That, of course, is still a long way away, however, with Pirates only beginning their new marathon league campaign at home to Golden Arrows this evening. It is not as if Pirates have waltzed merrily to their recent titles either. Both have been sealed only on the final day of the season, and the competition promises to be just as tight this time around. “We want to start well, like we did last season when we beat Black Leopards,” said Pirates captain Lucky Lekgwathi this week. “We played a friendly with them (Golden Arrows) recently and they gave us a hard time. They are a good team with a good coach (Muhsin Ertugral). We have to give them the respect they deserve, but we are at home in Orlando so we must just go there and dictate it to them.”
Mamelodi Sundowns loom large again, amid a swathe of new recruits, and looked very impressive in their 4-1 hammering of Kaizer Chiefs in the MTN8 quarter-finals. The problem for the Brazilians is they have started like an express train before, as they did last season, only to fall by the wayside. Kaizer Chiefs, meanwhile, have reinvented their back four, and hired a new coach in Stuart Baxter, as they aim for a first title since 2005.
SuperSport United also ran the Buccaneers close last season, and might benefit from the fact that they have not had their typical raft of departures in the off-season.
Coach Gavin Hunt certainly knows what it takes in a title run-in. Moroka Swallows will aim to better their runners-up spot of last season, this time under new coach Zeca Marques, though questions remain about the ability of an ageing squad to again last the pace. Other sides that cannot be discounted are Bidvest Wits, who have built a vast and experienced squad compared to previous seasons, Ajax Cape Town, looking to bounce back after a disappointing last season, and Free State Stars, who excelled in finishing sixth last season, which might have been far better but for some bad luck with referees.
Friday: Orlando Pirates v Golden Arrows, Orlando Stadium, 8pm; Ajax CT v SuperSport United, Cape Town Stadium, 8pm. Saturday: Black Leopards v Bloemfontein Celtic, Peter Mokaba Stadium; Free State Stars v Bidvest Wits, Goble Park; AmaZulu v Kaizer Chiefs, Moses Mabhida Stadium, 6pm; Mamelodi Sundowns v Chippa United, Lucas Moripe Stadium, 8.15pm. Sunday: University of Pretoria v Maritzburg United, Tuks Stadium; Platinum Stars v Moroka Swallows, Royal Bafokeng Stadium. (Kick-off 3pm unless stated)