CAPE TOWN - It wasn’t the most watchable final - but, in the end, SuperSport United were crowned MTN8 champions because of their resilience, resolve and, above all, their refusal to give in, in the face of great adversity.
Cape Town City played their part - but, in the end, they just never had enough of a cutting edge in attack, nor did they have the composure to kill off the opposition when the game’s pendulum swung their way.
The torrential rain during a nightmarish week in Durban played its part in reducing the Moses Mabhida Stadium pitch to a patchy, bumpy surface. Both teams struggled with the heavy underfoot conditions and both teams surrendered possession far too easily.
The lashing wind on the night made sure that a smooth-passing, flowing game of football would not unfold.
Also, probably because of the tension of the occasion, quite a few players under-performed and this, too, contributed to a Cup final high in tempo and endeavour but low in quality.
Because of this, the game was always going to be settled by one of two things: creativity or character.
City, unfortunately, never had the creativity nor the composure to take advantage of their opportunities, while SuperSport most certainly had the character and the courage to hang in, and then go on to win the game on penalties.
Down to 10 men, with 10 minutes left during normal time, and for the entire 30-minute extra-time period, the team from Pretoria showed magnificent spirit and strength of character.
Players went down with cramp on many occasions, but, with great courage, they got up and soldiered on, for the benefit of the team.
As a player, SuperSport coach Eric Tinkler was known for his combative, pugnacious attitude - and his fighting approach to life and football has most definitely rubbed off on his players.
SuperSport’s Bishop Lavis defender Clayton Daniels looked out on his feet, pain was etched on every line on his face, he was going through every kind of hell as cramp wracked both his legs - but, in the true warrior spirit so typical of the Cape Flats, he limped and staggered to the very end, and still managed to make some telling clearances. If you had to sum up SuperSport’s extraordinary performance of bravery in just one name, it would be Clayton Daniels.
For City coach Benni McCarthy, the defeat is certainly a learning curve in his new role as coach. It’s never easy to lose by the lottery of a penalty shootout, which is why McCarthy will reflect on missed opportunities and even rue some of the decisions he made.
With the Cape club lacking composure in trying to break down a 10-man SuperSport team, what was needed was someone to put a foot on the ball and provide some measure of innovation and invention in attack. McCarthy had such a player in Ayanda Patosi, but chose to leave the Khayelitsha schemer on the bench for the entire 120 minutes.
Still, though, even that doesn’t detract from another fantastic effort from the Cape club. Less than two years into their existence as a football club and already they’ve been in two Cup finals.
For City and McCarthy, it’s important to continue to focus on the positives - and there are certainly enough of those to ponder. Again, their defensive structure was exemplary and the organised.
Captain Robyn Johannes just needs someone to hand him a long, flowing cape because he is definitely starting to look like a real superhero; Ebrahim Seedat at left-back is maturing with every game; Thabo Nodada must have an extra lung packed away in some crevice of his body because he just never stops running; the passing skills of veteran Teko Modise remain as suave and silky as ever; Mpho Matsi was so dominant in central midfield he made SuperSport’s much-hyped Reneilwe Letsholonyane look like a bumbling amateur; and that kid Taariq Fielies in central defence, man, can he play?
Even at this early stage of his coaching career, McCarthy already has a success in the excellent Fielies. Plucked from the obscurity of NFD football with Milano United, the former Bafana Bafana striker hasn’t kept the Salt River defender waiting in the wings.
He recognised the hunger and ability, threw him into the starting team last month, and the player has repaid his coach with consistent, eye-catching performances. Fielies was, again, magnificent for the Cape club on Saturday night.
However, if there’s a concern for McCarthy as he contemplates the rest of the season, it’s ironically in the area where he, himself, excelled as a player: in attack. City need to be more clinical, more creative, more composed and more decisive in and around the penalty area. It’s time for McCarthy to make sure that his experience in this regard rubs off on his players.