CAPE TOWN – It wasn’t a good day for football at the Athlone Stadium on Sunday.
For those in attendance, the fact that Cape Town City got knocked out of the CAF Confederations Cup was incidental, and very few will remember that Mozambican side Costa do Sol emerged as victors on what was a forgettable 90 minutes for the ostensible beautiful game.
Everybody, however, will remember that everything else on show was ugly and depressing. In short, it was an embarrassing day for football.
The Ethiopian match officials were the main culprits, in that they failed to stamp their authority on the game. The man in the middle allowed so many things to go unpunished that he completely lost control. The players subsequently took the law into their own hands and the game degenerated into a tit-for-tat of brutal tackles.
Costa do Sol had come with a physical, aggressive attitude and, with the referee offering City no protection, they responded in kind. As a result, the frustration spilled over onto the two benches, where the Ethiopian fourth match official had no control of proceedings. The two opposing coaching staffs had a right go at each other, with regular scuffles and all manner of disconcerting finger-pointing, insults and threats hurled.
City coach Benni McCarthy didn’t want to go into too much detail, but did say he had no choice but to get involved. Costa do Sol coach Fabio Costas is Argentinian, and the technical director Arturo Faria is Portuguese; McCarthy speaks both languages, hence he was able to understand the instructions shouted to the players.
And with the Mozambicans being urged to “kick him” and “break him” every time City had the ball, McCarthy had a full go at the opposition.
“This was Sunday league, gangster football,” said McCarthy. “It was physical and intimidating. It’s a pity we can’t go further, but, to be honest, and people will probably criticise me, but I think it’s a blessing in disguise that we are out.
"The sad part of it all was that there was more happening on the outside than actual football being played. In my professional career, I have never been involved in a game like this. The referee just had no control. If this was a PSL match, Costa do Sol would have had two or three players sent off in the first half already.
I tell you, I was scared of losing players to injury for the rest of the season because of how dangerously the opposition was flying into tackles.”
McCarthy again rotated the squad for the CAF competition, with many of the team’s regulars watching from the comfort of the VIP box.
“We had a slow start,” said McCarthy. “The idea was to keep it compact and stay nice and tight. We had to make sure that we were organised, that we were calm and not rush things. But, while this was the plan, just two minutes in, and we did the exact opposite.
"We panicked after losing the ball, gave away a penalty and conceded a goal. I played a central defender in central midfield (Kwanda Mngonyama) and, while he grew into the game, we really missed an experienced guy like Teko Modise in that area.
“Overall, though, it was a good experience, a learning curve, and we will now know what to expect if we should make it into a CAF competition again.”