JOHANNESBURG – The 2017/18 season started off in dramatic fashion as the Clever Boys and Abafana Bes’thende put on a physical, fast-paced, profanity-laden, red cards riddled and entertaining spectacle to usher the new campaign.
At the end of it all, Wits survived a scare to win 4-3 in the penalty shoot-out to keep their hopes of defending the MTN8 alive after the match ended 2-2 after extra time.
If this is a glimpse of what’s in store this season, then it’s going to war.
After two hours of football, referee Phillip Tinyani had sent off six people. Coach Gavin Hunt and Slavko Damjanovic were sent off from the hosts, while Arrows boss Clinton Larsen, his assistant Mandla Ncikazi, Danny Phiri and Siyabonga Dube were given their marching orders from the visitors.
At halftime there were already three goals, two red cards – Phiri and Damjanovic – and a number of heated exchanges that included Jose Ferreira’s outburst on fourth official Victor Hlungwani at the start of extra time.
Both clubs gave as good as they got in a tournament aptly nicknamed #WafaWafa, with the winner taking everything.
Wits were those winners last season, but spent the better part of this game looking ordinary when it was still a football match, before it deteriorated into a pub brawl where everything goes.
Wits were quick to come back for the second half of regulation play. The players were probably escaping the wrath of Hunt as the hosts didn’t play like the reigning MTN8 champions, let alone kings of South Africa by virtue of winning the Absa Premiership.
Abafana Bes’thende made them look ordinary at a venue Wits made a fortress last season, losing only twice in the league.
After Hunt’s harsh words, Wits regrouped and controlled the match to give Moeneeb Josephs a free pass in the second half.
Hunt started with two debutants, Damjanovic and Daylon Claasen, but their introduction wasn’t that hospitable.
Claasen missed a sitter in a scramble in the box that was cleared by goalkeeper Nkosingiphile Gumede.
Damjanovic had it worse, sent off after just 20 minutes into his debut in a foreign country.
The centre back from Montenegro was shown a red card for a high tackle on Siphelele Magubane, knocking him out and ending what looked like a promising night. Magubane was lively on Arrows’ left flank, whipping in the cross that Lerato Lamola converted to put the Durban side ahead in their first attack after sustained pressure from the hosts.
Arrows were content with sitting back to soak up the pressure and then hit Wits with a counter-attack utilising their speedy wingers.
That’s how their second goal came.
Abafana Bes’thende reacted faster from a Wits free kick, and by the time the hosts woke up, Kudakwashe Mahachi had made it 2-0 to give the hosts a rude awakening.
Wits caught on and also reacted quickly to pull one back through James Keene from the penalty spot.
That goal exposed Arrows’ defensive frailties.
They made silly mistakes when put under serious pressure. Nkanyiso Mgwengwe committed an unnecessary foul on Vincent Pule to give Wits a penalty, while a casual Lehlohonolo Nonyane unwittingly laid off the ball to an oncoming Reeve Frosler with a poor back pass.
The Wits fullback gave Keene the chance to complete his brace, and the British striker made no mistake.
Wits held on to win a nerve-wrecking shoot-out that reached sudden death.