Johannesburg – A capacity 90,000 crowd and a global TV audience will watch a Soweto derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates Saturday that could decide the South African Premiership title race.
Chiefs hold a five-point lead over second-placed Pirates with nine rounds left.
A win for the season-long pacesetters would make them firm favourites to become champions after the first season in charge for England-born former South Africa coach Stuart Baxter.
A win for Pirates would narrow the gap to two points and the team seeking a record-equalling third consecutive title have a match in hand because of Caf Champions League commitments.
With even more at stake than usual in a fixture dating back 43 years, it was not surprising that tickets for the mid-afternoon Soccer City stadium showdown were sold out two weeks ago.
Although there are several appetising Super 15 fixtures and the Proteas start a one-day international cricket series against Pakistan this weekend, the media spotlight is firmly focused on the Soweto derby.
While Al Ahly and Zamalek in Cairo, Club Africain and Esperance in Tunis and Raja and Wydad in Casablanca regularly provide better technical and tactical football, these derbies cannot match the hype of Chiefs and Pirates.
Most of the global football family will be able to watch the match either on TV, Internet or mobile phone and broadcasters SuperSport say the derby will attract record worldwide viewership figures.
“Coverage will literally be across the globe,” said Brandon Foot of SuperSport. “There will be wider distribution of the Soweto derby than the previous fixture, including a breakthrough into the significant Asian market.”
Baxter, who has worked with the national team in Finland and clubs in Japan, hopes Chiefs and Pirates put a disappointing 1-1 first-round derby draw behind them and “sell” South African football to the world.
“Both teams were very nervous then,” he recalled. “This fixture is the showpiece of South African football and players, coaches, match officials and supporters have a duty to highlight what is great about the game here.”
South African football at its best is an absorbing spectacle, but there are too many drab Premiership matches, and some games would embarrass amateur footballers in Europe.
Chiefs are skippered by Itumeleng Khune, one of the best goalkeepers in Africa, fit-again Morgan Gould is the defensive marshal, Reneilwe Letsholonyane the midfield driving force, and Bernard Parker the goal poacher.
Pirates hope to have centre-back Siyabonga Sangweni fit to partner captain Lucky Lekgwathi, while they have been battling to score goals in the long-term injury absence of Benni McCarthy, a 2004 Uefa Champions League winner with Porto. – Sapa-AFP