Rushine de Reuck of Maritzburg United is set to show case his skills in the final. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
The dominant thread running through football conversation this week has been about how the Mother City will respond to today’s Nedbank Cup final between Maritzburg United and Free State Stars at the Cape Town Stadium (kick-off 7pm).

But while it may be the final not many wanted, there can be no disputing the fact that the two much-improved finallists fully deserve to be lining up at the iconic 2010 World Cup venue in Green Point today.

Both Maritzburg and Stars have been a breath of fresh air this season.

They’ve stood back for no-one; they’ve played with tactical discipline and, above all, they’ve got the results that matter.

Who gave them a chance in the semi-finals, when they were up against PSL giants Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs?

But still the two unheralded teams beat the odds. And, even more sadly, Maritzburg and Stars have had a slow build-up to the cup final this week after they were placed in the shadow to accommodate Sundowns’ friendly against Barcelona.

It has been a long, difficult trek for the two finalists  both on and off the field  and, for that alone, they deserve the admiration and the presence of Capetonians today.

There are a few sons of the Mother City on show: Maritzburg have head coach Fadlu Davids, central defender Bevan Fransman and promising young defender Rushine de Reuck.

Fadlu Davids is hoping to help Maritzburg United win their first trophy. Photo: Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix

Over at Stars, there’s Riedoh Berdien, a fitness trainer who is rapidly earning the respect of coaches in the PSL.

The Capetonian has previously worked at Cape Town All Stars, Chippa United, Banyana Banyana and the national teams of Botswana, Bangladesh and Trinidad & Tobago.

Davids, 36, is one of the most promising young coaches in the country and has done superb work in turning around Maritzburg’s fortunes.

Experienced central defender Fransman, now 34, is the rock upon which the KwaZulu-Natal side’s defence is built, while De Reuck has spent some time in Portugal with Pacos de Ferreira.

All in all, though, it’s more than likely this final will be decided by the teams’ tactical approach.

Maritzburg and Stars are closely-matched; there is very little between the two sides, and the two coaches  Davids and Luc Eymael  are going to have to be at their best to outsmart each other.

The KZN team have the experience of Fransman and Siyanda Xulu in central defence, but Stars are able to emulate that with Rooi Mahamutsa and Paulus Masehe, two seasoned footballers who have seen and done it all in the PSL.

Maritzburg boast one of the country’s emerging talents in Siphesihle Ndlovu, who is likely to be among the nominees for PSL Player of the Year next week, and the up-and-coming midfield star Lebohang Maboe. Stars, not to be left behind, have their own grafters and match-winners in Nhlanhla Vilakazi, Sinethemba Jantjie and Harris Tchilimbou.

It’s not an easy final to call  and, with both Davids and Fransman having great respect for their opponents, they stressed that Maritzburg would have to stay cool in the cauldron of pressure expected.

“Stars have a great counter-attack style and a defensive concept that is difficult to break down,” said Davids.

“They go man to man, they plan well, and we will have our work cut out.

Luc Eymael and his Free State Stars team will want to rain on Maritzburg parade. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

“But we’ve shown great progress. For many of the youngsters in the squad, this is their first or second season in the PSL, and we also have the calming effect of the more experienced players. We are in this final and it’s an occasion to enjoy. We won’t put too much pressure on the team - we just want them to go out and savour the moment.”

Fransman added: “Stars have gone about their business quietly but effectively. They are a solid team and secured a top six place on the PSL standings. They compete well and they are a hardworking side not very easy to break down. They use a system based on collective defence and are great on closing out opponents and shutting down space. I don’t expect they will change too much for the final  the one thing we have to be careful of is that they have the ability to hurt any team. We can’t switch off; if we do, we could be in trouble.”

For Maritzburg’s players, though, there is an added motivation: Davids celebrates his 37th birthday on Monday  and what better way to thank their coach than victory in today’s cup final?

Weekend Argus

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