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Unlike his predecessor, Stuart Baxter is amenable to the idea of the Carling Cup, even though the Kaizer Chiefs coach conceded yesterday that the annual competition which features his team and rivals Orlando Pirates was “a bit compromised” as team selection is not solely his discretion.
The Soweto giants clash again tomorrow in the second edition of this competition, which drew howls of derision when it was inaugurated last year following the insensible decision to drop the Charity Spectacular, which for years had been a traditional season-opening one-day event.
Tomorrow’s sold out clash at FNB Stadium (7.30pm) – where line-ups for both teams are selected by fans via SMS – will still not rank as Baxter’s official debut in Chiefs colours, but the Englishman is nonetheless looking forward to it with glee.
“The format is interesting because it’s mainly for the fans, but our job as professionals is to do our best and give them the best entertainment.
“It’s a bit compromised as I don’t have control over the team, but that doesn’t matter as there’s never a friendly between Chiefs and Pirates,” Baxter said.
His endorsement of the format of tomorrow’s tie is in contrast to what his predecessor Vladimir Vermezovic said about the Carling Cup last year, when he declared it a gimmick and even vowed not to sit on the bench. But Baxter was excited as he spoke about the prospect of taking charge of his first Soweto derby. “When I was Bafana coach I enjoyed these derbies immensely. People back home would say ‘you’ve been involved in derbies in Europe and Asia’. But I would respond by saying there’s nothing like the Soweto Derby. I’m happy to be finally involved as a coach.
“There’s a massive outpouring of emotion from supporters. The history and rivalry makes it a very special, fantastic event,” he said.
Having lost Siphiwe Tshabalala for tomorrow’s match, Baxter conceded he was worried about further injuries ahead of the clash.
Chiefs midfielder Reneilwe Letsholonyane missed the better part of the previous campaign after picking up an injury in last year’s Carling Cup.
“I would have liked to have Shabba on the field so that he can get playing time and gel with the rest of the players. As a coach you’re worried about injuries in these games because you don’t want to go into the new season without two or three key players. But at the same time I won’t wrap the players in cotton wool. These games always have some intensity and passion.”
Pirates lifted last year’s cup after winning a penalty shoot-out, but it is the fact that they are current league champions that Baxter will treat them with respect.
“You’ve got a situation where we are playing against the superior side in the country for the last two years. You have to look at this match as a cup final against a very good team. We will play to our best… try to find a nice balance and not over-exert ourselves.”
Meanwhile, there are no surprises in either of the teams’ starting XIs as voted for by the fans. Chiefs goalkeeper and captain Itumeleng Khune proved to be the most popular player in either side, getting more than 2.2 million votes.
His nearest challengers were Moeneeb Josephs, the Pirates goalminder (1.1 million votes) and striker Benni McCarthy (917 679). Organisers said last night that more than 20 million votes were cast, with Chiefs players receiving 12 million and Pirates 8 million.
As expected, Tokelo Rantie did not make it into the Pirates line-up as he’s still the subject of a dispute between the club and his Swedish employers, while Happy Jele fell off in spite of receiving nearly 350 000 votes. Jele is in rehabilitation after missing most of last season due to a nasty injury.
On the Chiefs side, Jimmy Tau and Tshabalala miss out.
Pirates: Josephs; Lekgwathi, Mahamutsa, Sangweni, Matlaba; Myeni, Manyisa, Jali, Mayambela; McCarthy, Mbuyane
Chiefs: Khune; Gaxa, Mashamaite, Gould, Jambo; Dladla, Yeye, Nale, Lebese; Majoro, Parker