Cape Town - The PSL is often a bemusing and quirky sporting landscape. They say that football is a game of opinions - rightfully so - but sometimes a situation is so self-evident that even the most blinkered watcher has to agree with the majority perspective. You would think so, but not in the PSL.
This was the scenario on Wednesday night when Ajax Cape Town - against all odds - surprised African champions Mamelodi Sundowns 2-0 at Cape Town Stadium.
In a match characterised by the discipline and excellence of Ajax’s defensive approach, and epitomised in the towering showing of 20-year-old central defender Rivaldo Coetzee, it was contrived to give the Man-of-the-Match award to Mark Mayambela.
With no disrespect to Mayambela, as good as he was on the night, Coetzee was twice as good. Even Mayambela admitted afterwards that the award should have gone to the outstanding young central defender - so the question is: Which game was the adjudicator watching?
Coetzee, who made his debut in the top-flight as a 17-year-old, has gone from strength to strength, season after season. He’s already a Bafana Bafana regular and played for the SA Under-23s at the Rio Olympics earlier this year.
After Bafana recently defeated Senegal in a 2018 World Cup qualifier, Coetzee returned to Ajax injured. He was given a two-game break to recover, but stepped back into action against Sundowns on Wednesday.
It was as if he had never been away, and his composure infused the side with confidence. On one occasion, Downs striker Percy Tau wriggled his way through on goal, but was foiled by a superb tackle from Coetzee - it was a match-defining moment, highlighting hi’s class, anticipation and all-round quality.
As Mayambela said afterwards: “As much as I was the Man of the Match, I think the whole team deserved itâ€¦ But I’m going to give this award to Rivaldo Coetzee, I think he had a better game than me.”
Coetzee and Mayambela will now be keen to continue the winning momentum when Ajax host Golden Arrows at Athlone Stadium on Saturday (8.15pm kickoff). Having started the season off very poorly, going winless in nine games, the Urban Warriors have now won two in a row.
“Even when things were down we kept on going and working hard, and it shows we are united as a team,” added Mayambela.
Ajax’s recent improvement has coincided with the appointment of Stanley Menzo as head coach. Most notable since his arrival is the tactical discipline displayed by the players.
Often criticised for being too loose, especially when losing the ball, Menzo has ensured that Ajax are a lot tighter and compact in this regard. This was a key facet of their game which, in essence, led to the win over the Brazilians.
In addition to the improvement in the way the Urban Warriors defend as a team, Menzo has also quickly added confidence to the equation.
A few weeks ago, when the Cape side was struggling, quite a few players were hiding, almost as if afraid to take possession of the ball. Since the arrival of the former Ajax Amsterdam and Netherlands goalkeeper as coach, Ajax look a lot more assured on the ball.
“I’m proud of the team,” said Menzo. “We’ve come from a difficult situation and the players deserve that win for all the hard work they’ve put in.
“Against Sundowns, the idea was to play with discipline, stay in the game and the chances would come.”
In Arrows, Ajax face one of the surprise packages of the season. Abafana Bes'thende are in a lofty fourth position on the PSL standings. At the summit are Cape Town City on 21 points, followed by SuperSport United and Wits (both on 20), and then Arrows (on 18 points).
Ajax, on the back of the two recent victories, have improved to 14th position with nine points, but Menzo and his squad will know that a win over Arrows will launch them to the safety of a mid-table place. It’s all to play for.