Maarten Stekelenburg is a professional football coach from Holland. He’s not a Capetonian. Yet, even the Dutch coach felt the vibe and the buzz at the Ajax Cape Town training session this week.
Ajax take on Santos in the traditional Cape derby at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday night (kick off 8.15pm) – and Stekelenburg is certain local fans are in for a cracker of a game.
“It should be a fantastic fixture,” said the Ajax coach. “I’m not from Cape Town, but from what I’ve seen at training this week, it looks this could be a really special game. The players, especially those from Cape Town, are really looking forward to the derby. You can see they can’t wait to get to Saturday.”
Santos coach Duncan Crowie echoed the thoughts of his counterpart: “Forget Chiefs, Pirates or Sundowns... if you are from Cape Town, this is the game you want to win.
“I’ve noticed from the body language of the Santos players that they are very eager. They have the desire, and are excited about getting to grips with Ajax on Saturday.”
Stekelenburg believes derbies all over the world are the same. Yes, they may differ in size and hype, but in terms of approach and attitude, there’s no difference in the manner in which it must be tackled.
“In a derby, there is a moment in the 90 minutes when it all explodes. It’s the game-defining moment. We have to be able to control when it happens, and be ready and prepared for when it happens.
“Another critical factor in any derby is fighting spirit. A team has to keep going and never give in.
“We are in a good period at the moment and the players have a good attitude. I believe that this derby against Santos comes at just the right time. It means my players will have to focus even more. They won’t have time for complacency or over-confidence because of their recent good form.
“Instead they will have to forget about past results and realise the importance of winning this derby.”
Stekelenburg is hopeful that he will have all his players fit and available. Central defender Matthew Booth missed out the previous game – a 2-0 win over Maritzburg United – after being injured during the warm-up.
“We are looking at Booth’s injury and will be monitoring it,” said Stekelenburg. “It’s not too serious. More than likely, he will be ready for Saturday’s game.”
Captain and inspirational midfielder Granwald Scott returns to the team from suspension, while winger Lebogang Manyama is back from injury.
“We are taking things game by game,” said Stekelenburg. “We are moving in the right direction. We want to climb up the log, we want to be among the challengers for the title, it’s all part of the process. There are three points on offer against Santos and that is what we will be going for.”
Scott, a born and bred Capetonian, is from the township of Factreton. He cut his football teeth as a junior playing for Kensington FC on an open stretch of field in 14th avenue in Factreton.
He grew up watching derbies involving teams like Hellenic, Santos, Cape Town Spurs and Ajax.
Now, he is right in the thick of the action. He is at the heart of the derby he once followed from the stands.
“This is the big one,” said Scott. “This is a game we want to win. The confidence is high and we will be focused on our game plan on Saturday.
“We would like to encourage fans to come out and support the derby. It will be exciting.”