Stellenbosch FC must handle the pressure in Champions League race

Iqraam Rayners will hope to find the back of the net for Stellenbosch FC against Richards Bay after missing a penalty against Sundowns. Photo: BackpagePix

Iqraam Rayners will hope to find the back of the net for Stellenbosch FC against Richards Bay after missing a penalty against Sundowns. Photo: BackpagePix

Published May 24, 2024


Stellenbosch FC will show relegation-threatened Richards Bay no mercy in their DStv Premiership clash tomorrow (3pm kick-off) in their efforts to establish themselves as a powerhouse in local football.

There is so much riding for both teams on the clash at the King Goodwill Zwelithini Stadium in Umlazi, a township south-west of Durban.

For hosts Richards Bay, it is a matter of survival in the Premiership. They are in 15th place in the 16-team league and seem certain to contest the promotion-relegation play-offs, unless a miracle saves them.

Even if they defeat Stellenbosch, their fate will be decided by the outcome of the Moroka Swallows-Royal AM match. If Royal AM win or draw, Richards Bay will have to survive the play-offs to remain in the top-flight.

Richards Bay must win and Royal AM must lose for the Natal Rich Boyz to be safe.

In that case, Royal AM will advance to the dreaded promotion-relegation play-offs.

The match day venue, King Goodwill Zwelithini Stadium, holds fond memories for the KZN side. In May 2021, Richards Bay won promotion to the Premiership with a draw against Cape Town Spurs.

Since then, the Natal Rich Boyz – as Richards Bay FC are known – have campaigned in the elite league, and this time a different Cape Town side, Stellenbosch, could condemn them to the relegation play-offs.

Stellenbosch have caught a whiff of continental football, and after their glorious Premiership run this season, they are thrilled that a CAF ticket beckons.

— Stellenbosch FC (@StellenboschFC) May 23, 2024

If they finish the season in second place, it will be the Champions League, CAF’s blue-riband club competition, while third will secure them a spot in the lower-tier Confederation Cup.

Over the past three weeks, Stellenbosch had a chance to secure a second-place finish, but they unexpectedly dropped points against lowly Moroka Swallows (defeat) and AmaZulu (draw).

Stellenbosch coach Steve Barker said the results of other teams have allowed his team to remain in second place, but the time has come to be accountable for their CAF fate.

He felt that last week’s penalty miss against Mamelodi Sundowns showed that the team were not coping well with pressure moments.

“It was just about seeing those moments out while suffering a little bit in those situations,” said Barker.

“We know that if we can see that out, we will have moments where we can look to catch the opposition on transition.”

Strangely, the penalty miss was by Golden Boot-chasing Iqraam Rayners, who failed to convert his spot-kick, which kept him on 14 goals – one behind Orlando Pirates star Tshegofatso Mabasa.

— Stellenbosch FC (@StellenboschFC) May 22, 2024

“The penalty miss was a massive moment,” said Barker. “Against a team of their calibre, you do not get many opportunities, so when you do get one from the penalty spot and you do not score, an already tough task becomes even tougher.

“It would have been interesting to see how the game would have panned out if we had taken the lead.”

Despite the result, Barker was pleased with his side’s performance and shared his optimism that Stellenbosch FC were closing the gap on perennial champions Mamelodi Sundowns.

“We know that one of the ways we can ask questions is with the ball over the top, but sometimes it was played a bit too early, or hasty, or too often,” said Barker.

“I thought we were good though; the effort was good, and in many aspects, we held them.

“You can see they are the better team. They are the best team in the league, and you can’t hide away from that fact, but we will get there.

“We are rising quickly and we’re not going to stop. We are coming… .”