CAPE TOWN - Ajax Cape Town’s date with destiny is upon them. On Tuesday night, when they host Baroka FC at Athlone Stadium (7.30pm kickoff), the Capetonians embark on the first of three games that will be the most important since the club was established in 1999.
Stuck second-from bottom on the PSL standings, the last three games of the season will determine the future of a club that, for all its grand vision and lofty ideals, just haven’t come to the party over the last few seasons.
It would be unthinkable that football in the Mother City won’t have Ajax in the top flight. So, as the Cape side heads into the final run-in, with so much at stake, here are a few points for the players to ponder:
1. They're still masters of their own fate
All is not lost. In fact, far from it; there are still nine points to play for. Check the log standings: Chippa United (34 points), Bloemfontein Celtic (34), Baroka (33), Bidvest Wits (33), AmaZulu (32), Golden Arrows (31), Polokwane City (31), SuperSport United (29) and Ajax (28). There are only six points separating Chippa in seventh on the league standings and Ajax in 15th. Based on that, and especially considering the unpredictable nature of football, anything can happen in the final three games. Points will be won and dropped in the final run-in. Ajax are still the masters of their own fate - it’s just critical that they keep winning.
2. Pressure is part and parcel of football
Yes, there will be pressure. It’s an integral part of the game and every professional footballer knows how important it is to stay calm in the heat of battle. These final three games will test the resolve and fortitude of every member of the Ajax squad. Do they have what it takes to handle the pressure during such a critical period of the season? Even Ajax coach Muhsin Ertugral admitted last week that he wasn’t too sure about whether his team was handling the pressure well enough. Well, here is the opportunity for the players to answer their coach.
3. Loss of focus will be punished
Stay in the moment. Focus on only what is in front; everything else is secondary. At this stage, Ajax shouldn’t be concerned about what the other struggling teams do, nor should the Tendai Ndoro saga have an effect on how they perform. Court battles and off-field shenanigans have nothing to do with what takes place inside the four white lines of the football arena. It’s important they concentrate only on the job at hand, which is to perform with commitment and pick up points. As a team, they have to play and react to the game scenario in front of them during the 90 minutes. Stray from the task, allow the mind to wonder, and it will be costly.
4. Survival is about more than just the players
This battle for survival is about more than just the individual members of the squad. As a club, the Ajax vision reaches deep into the community and its ambitions benefit not just the players, but the development and progress of the sport as a whole. To continue to do so, it’s crucial that the club remains in the top flight. This is, ultimately, the responsibility that falls on the shoulders of the Ajax squad tasked with rescuing the club from the drop. So, as they embark on the final three games, it’s important the players remember they are also playing for every kid in every township with dreams of being a professional footballer for Ajax.
5. Hard work will win the day
The battle the Cape side is about to take on can only be achieved in one way: with blinkered determination and good, old-fashioned sweat and graft. There is no other way. The commitment the team has shown in the last two games - in picking up four points - has been exemplary, but they are going to need so much more. From now until the end, they have to continue to work their socks off. Because what you put in is what you get out.
6. Zakri can capitalise on counter-attacks
Ertugral has, for purposes of the relegation fight, changed the way Ajax play. Instead of the usual smooth-passing, entertaining fare, it’s a dour, defence-first, counter-attack approach. Nothing wrong with that - at this stage, its results and points that matter, not the beauty of performance. But to play like this, Ajax need a striker capable of taking advantage of situations on the break. In Ivorian Yannick Zakri, the Capetonians have such a player. The dazzling attacker will play a significant role for Ajax in the closing stages of the campaign. As such, it’s crucial his teammates offer all the support he needs to hurt opposition defences.