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David v Goliath as Gallants cross paths with Sundowns in the Nedbank Cup final

FILE - The Nedbank Cup trophy. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

FILE - The Nedbank Cup trophy. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Published May 27, 2022


Johannesburg — Mamelodi Sundowns and Marumo Gallants are worlds apart on paper and in reality. But they’ll line up at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace on Saturday night eyeing the same prize: the Nedbank Cup crown.

It is for such reasons that the country’s premier club knockout competition is themed as the ‘David v Goliath clash’ because even the 'so called small clubs' like Gallants get to fancy their chances against the mighty Sundowns.

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When Gallants’ previous bosses sold them the status of Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila after winning the Nedbank Cup last season, Sundowns were already plotting their next raid in the transfer market for the new term.

But a lot has happened since then. So much that the two teams find themselves on a cusp of a historic battle. And so that Gallants won the trophy last season as TTM, having also beat Sundowns in the semi-final, is notwithstanding.

In their superiority, Sundowns are eyeing a domestic treble this season after winning the MTN8 earlier this season before wrapping up their fifth successive championship — and a record 12th overall.

So, with the Nedbank Cup potentially their record 15th silverware in less than a decade, even Sundowns’ closest rivals would be trembling with fear heading to such a match. So, who were Gallants, who finished 10th?

But strange things have happened in football, and so undermining the Dan “Dance” Malesela coached team would be Sundowns’ peril. Even their co-coach Manqoba Mngqithi knows this much.

“This is probably one of the most difficult matches that you ever play as a coach,” Mngqithi said in the official press briefing of the Nedbank Cup at Sun City Resort this week.

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“I was telling the players that the most important thing about the game we're playing against Marumo is to have the highest level of respect for the game and for the opponents.”

Mngqithi respects Galaxy and Malesela “because they play a very stylish brand of football and some of their players can play for Sundowns.” But who wouldn’t respect Malesela given his history in the competition?

After winning the Nedbank Cup as a player with Orlando Pirates, Malesela sprung a surprise by becoming the first coach to win the competition with a second-tier division TS Galaxy after they beat Kaizer Chiefs.

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While there’s vast difference in lineage and financial muscles between the two teams, the two outfits enjoy a similar style of play. They are ball playing teams.

Having two ball playing teams go head-to-head means that the match will likely be won in the engine room — where action is controlled.

Sundowns have the upper hand when it comes to talent. They are led by Andile Jali, who’s been nominated for five awards this season. Jali is a player full of aggression on and off the ball.

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Jali allows Siphelele Mkhulise and Lebogang Maboe to add numbers upfront, as he’ll form a defensive trio with the centre-backs when wingbacks Aubrey Modiba and Thapelo Morena move up.

But perhaps, Sundowns engine room will finally get competition from the much talked about Gallants trio: Miguel Timm, Celimpilo Ngema and Ndabayithethwa Ndlondlo.

Not only would the trio be aiming to win the second Nedbank Cup crown in a row, they’ll be eager to treat this match as an audition after Mngqithi sentiments that they might be good enough for Sundowns.

When it comes to their offensive personnel, Sundowns are far by a country mile. They have Peter Shalulile who scored 28 goals this season, including 23 in the league. That’s why Gallants have to be solid defensively.


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