Johannesburg – The nation may have just concluded a difficult 10 days of mourning but there’s little doubt that, however sombre the mood has been, some Absa Premiership teams may have been quietly celebrating.
Having been given a reprieve by the Premier Soccer League, which unexpectedly cancelled all of the past week’s game due to lack of venues as they were being used to host Nelson Mandela’s memorial services, the teams return to the field on Monday, and some definitely needed last week’s break. Chief among them would be Orlando Pirates, who were supposed to travel to Ajax Cape Town days after losing out to Platinum Stars in the Telkom Knockout final.
As much as nothing could ever dominate the news pages as the passing of President Mandela, the early stage of last week saw Roger de Sa featuring prominently in a few sport discussions following Pirates’ loss to Stars, and the Buccaneers coach will have been relieved to see the spotlight taken away from football.
However, the consequence of that postponement is that De Sa didn’t really get much of a respite as he faces his nemesis, Platinum Stars, this afternoon (Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace, 3.30pm).
Pirates have now lost two cups to Dikwena this season, and to move off the bottom of the standings, they need to beat them in what’s expected to be scorching North West conditions. This fixture was penned for today, but the altering of the programme meant it was moved to an earlier kick-off (originally from 5pm), and that can’t have pleased De Sa, who may not avoid being this week’s topic should Pirates lose.
De Sa even had the gumption to dismiss as premature reports of his impending sacking, reasoning he had 18 more months left in his contract, but this is a week that could determine if he stays that long.
Aside from the trip to Dikwena, the PSL schedule has been kind to De Sa, with that match against Ajax to be played only in the new year. Instead of two tough away games, Pirates will finish the year with home matches against two battling sides: the University of Pretoria on Thursday and Golden Arrows on Sunday.
As some form of solace, De Sa will note that Pirates did win at Platinum Stars last season – in his first match in charge of Bucs – and should they repeat that feat, they would well be justified to aim for nine points to sign off the year and move up the standings.
Top-placed sides Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs will also have welcomed last week’s break, which saw their high-profile match cancelled a day before it was due to take place. But they face tricky clashes this evening, with Sundowns in particular in danger of losing the top spot should they lose to rivals SuperSport United. Chiefs, meanwhile, host Tuks, and a win there combined with a Sundowns loss would leave Amakhosi firmly at the top, and Stuart Baxter’s men would stand a chance of going into the break as the log leaders as they have two more highly winnable matches this week – one more than Sundowns.
For Sundowns, a few more days off meant some key players could recover and be available for tonight’s Tshwane derby, with captain Alje Schut and attacking midfielders Bongani Zungu and Khama Billiat all expected to be part of the squad to take on SuperSport.
Monday (3.30pm unless stated): Arrows v AmaZulu, King Zwelithini Stadium; Platinum Stars v Pirates, Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace; Aces v FS Stars, KaNyamazane Stadium; SuperSport v Sundowns, Loftus, 6pm; Maritzburg v Wits, Harry Gwala Stadium, 6pm; Chiefs v Tuks, FNB Stadium, 8.15pm
Wednesday: Swallows v Polokwane City, Dobsonville, 7.30pm; Ajax v Celtic, Cape Town Stadium, 7.30pm
Thursday: Pirates v Tuks, Orlando, 7pm; Arrows v Chiefs, Moses Mabhida Stadium, 7pm
Friday: Sundowns v Maritzburg, Loftus, 7.30pm
Saturday: FS Stars v Swallows, Goble Park; Polokwane City v SuperSport, Peter Mokaba Stadium; Ajax v P Stars, Cape Town Stadium, 8.15pm; Wits v Celtic, Bidvest Stadium, 8.15pm
Sunday: AmaZulu v Chiefs, Moses Mabhida Stadium; Tuks v Aces, Tuks Stadium; Pirates v Arrows, Orlando