This Nedbank Cup final is not an ideal contest for the sponsors. Don’t expect Cape Town Stadium to be filled to capacity, although that would be nice. But staunch supporters of this football club owned by one Mike Mokoena didn’t imagine this day would come.
I was 10 years old the last time this team, then called QwaQwa Stars, beat Hellenic 3-2 to win the Coca-Cola Cup in Bloemfontein back in 1994.
Five years later, my parents and I thought we’d witness yet another incredible achievement when they reached another cup final, but were disappointed as Ea Lla Koto’s hopes of lifting a second major trophy were halted by Sundowns in that Rothman Cup final. Drought doesn’t even begin to describe the barren years since. Relegation in 2006 was an unbearable heartache, and even after a swift return back to top flight football, with a few exceptional seasons, the main objective has always been to steady the ship and try by all means necessary to retain the Premier League status.
Stars have always been hard to beat, especially at home. But the generations that followed the class of 1994 were never really consistent enough.
Back then, goalkeeper John Tlale was among the best in the country, with the defence marshalled by Sam Banda, the midfield led ever so gallantly by captain Serame Letsoaka and Joseph ‘Pro’ Maphutse, with burly striker Bunene Ngaduane and Roger Lupiya tasked with getting the goals.
It’s a line-up that you could bet on to get the job done, and the opposition always knew they were in for a tough time.
There are similarities to some degree in the team that will take to the pitch tonight against Maritzburg United in the Nedbank Cup final when you look at Thela Ngobeni, who has been preferred to Ali Sangare in cup matches, captain Paulus Masehe in central defence and Nhlanhla Vilakazi in midfield.
Their strike-force cannot rival that of Ngaduane and his partner, but between Mohammed Anas, Siphelele Mthembu, Goodman Dlamini and speedster Sinethemba Jantjie, Stars are capable of scoring and putting Maritzburg to the sword. It’s not been a cup final that’s grabbed everyone’s attention, but for Bethlehem tonight could be one to remember.