DURBAN - Momentum for AmaZulu, revenge for Golden Arrows and form for Maritzburg United will be the driving forces when the local sides face off against Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and Platinum Stars respectively in the opening round of the Telkom Knockout this weekend.
Maritzburg kick off KwaZulu-Natal’s cup fever weekend against Stars at the Harry Gwala Stadium on Friday (8pm, TV SS4), followed by the Durban teams’ Saturday double date against the Soweto rivals.
Arrows host Pirates in KwaMashu in the afternoon (3.30pm, TV SS4), followed by AmaZulu ironically playing as the visitors against Chiefs at Moses Mabhida Stadium (8.15pm, TV SS4). In between Durban hosts the Currie Cup final between the Sharks and Western Province at Kings Park.
AmaZulu upset Mamelodi Sundowns in the league at the weekend, and coach Cavin Johnson is eager to see his charges carry the momentum from Pretoria into Saturday's showdown.
“It’s good to play Chiefs (after Sundowns) and see if we can keep the momentum going. It is an away game at home so it’s going to be a big one,” said Usuthu tactician Cavin Johnson.
“It’s always a pleasure to play them because you have younger players in the team who at some moment in their lives supported Kaizer Chiefs. Now they find themselves playing for AmaZulu, and have to play against their peers, which is motivation to go out and do well.”
The AmaZulu youngsters don’t have to look far for inspiration. Two former Chiefs stalwarts, Siyabonga Nomvete, 39, and Mabhuti Khenyeza, 35, did the damage in the 2-1 upset of Sundowns. Although unlikely to start, the duo are inspirational figures in the Usuthu set-up, and could feature off the bench.
AmaZulu are new to the league, having bought the promoted status of Thanda Royal Zulu at the start of the season. Despite their inexperience Johnson said they won’t prioritise the league over the cups, and that they will gladly wear the underdog tag.
“There’s no difference between a league assignment and a cup assignment. I don’t place any emphasis on playing a cup game or in the league. We need to build our brand to make our future better.”
Arrows, the only unbeaten team in the league, will back themselves to take revenge for last season’s first round exit at the hands of the Buccaneers. Arrows coach Clinton Larsen is establishing a never-say-die fighting spirit in the youthful outfit, a characteristic that is embodied by their Zimbabwean star Kudakwashe Mahachi, who is eager for a Pirates pay-back.
“In the MTN8 we lost against Bidvest Wits on penalties, but we did well and now there’s a chance to play another cup against Orlando Pirates. Pirates is a big team, but we are not going to make life easy for them just because we are a small team,” he said.
Maritzburg’s sparkling start to the season - knocking Mamelodi Sundowns out of the MTN8 at the first hurdle - lost a bit of shine after they were beaten by eventual champions Supersport United in the semi-finals.
The Team of Choice are winless in seven games in all competitions. The club was also hit by the tragedy of the death of midfielder Mlondi Dlamini in a car accident earlier this month. However utility player Fortune Makaringe is confident that their recent results are not reflective of their performances.
“We’ve been unfortunate lately, so this game gives us a chance to redeem ourselves, we want to win at all costs,” said the 24-year-old who plays central midfield or wide.
“We have to keep believing in ourselves, I believe the results will come. We haven’t won in our backyard for a while; we need to do it for our fans. Everyone is highly motivated. One of our targets this season is to reach a cup final,” Makaringe added.
Maritzburg might enjoy a psychological edge given that they beat Platinum Stars in their first league outing and face the only side that has yet to win this term. The visitors are winless in nine league clashes and occupy bottom spot with four points.
However this will be a different Platinum outfit to the one they faced. Dikwena recently roped in Roger De Sa, who coached Maritzburg briefly last season. Three draws and a defeat to Sundowns in their last four matches is a sign that they are improving.
Tickets for this weekend’s Telkom Knockout round of 16 are still available at TicketPro outlets, selling at R40.