Bloemfontein Celtic have their chance to run Mamelodi Sundowns off their feet
JOHANNESBURG - A place in the history books of South African football awaits Bloemfontein Celtic if they achieve the improbable by defeating Mamelodi Sundowns in the Nedbank Cup final at Orlando Stadium this evening.
This is an uncharted territory for Celtic. But that they defeated Sundowns in the Telkom Knockout showdown the last time they made a cup final in 2012 should give them a sense of belief they can be victorious even today.
John Maduka was the team manager that night at Moses Mabhida Stadium. But tonight, he’ll lead out his brigade hoping to create his own legacy since taking over the coaching reins from Lehlohonolo Seema during the lockdown.
Celtic have already qualified for the CAF Confederation Cup next season after reaching this stage of the tournament. This follows Sundowns’ qualification for the Champions League after winning the league.
But Maduka’s men will know the importance of the R7 million winner’s cheque for claiming the premier club knockout competition trophy, considering the financial struggles that the club faces.
The Brazilians, however, will be no pushovers as they are hell-bent on completing a domestic treble this season, after already winning the Telkom Knockout and Absa Premiership. But they are not untouchable – they had their flaws in the bio-bubble.
And to Celtic’s advantage, they can easily exploit Sundowns’ weakest link. The Brazilians are not sound defensively – the five clean sheets they kept in their last five matches were due to some brilliant goalkeeping from Kennedy Mweene and Denis Onyango.
Centre-back pair Wayne Arendse and Ricardo Nascimento may be efficient in aerial presence and technical acumen due to height and physique, but they lack mobility, while Motjeka Madisha has been erratic since the restart.
Mosa Lebusa continues to be in and out of the team due to pestering injuries, while wing-backs, Anele Ngcongca and Tebogo Langerman, are not as quick nor strong as they used to be in one-on-one duels. And there lies Celtic’s advantage.
The team from the City of Roses boasts a strong striking contingent. In the bio-bubble, where they remain the only team without a loss after three wins and five draws, Celtic have scored 13 goals in eight matches.
Much of the credit should go to captain Ndumiso Mabena who’s ageing like fine wine with the way he’s led the team. But fellow striking partners such as Menzi Masuku, Harris Tchilimbou, Sera Motebang and Victor Letsoalo have also been delightful to watch whenever they make inroads into the opposition’s final third.
But while Maduka may boast a sharp attack, he’ll equally need his troops to be sound defensively, especially against the Brazilians who can score goals for fun, although they do not have a natural No. 9.
In their last five matches Pitso Mosimane’s charges have scored nine unanswered goals, showing off the host of attacking talent that they have at their disposal and how much easier it is for them to step up to the plate during crunch time.