CAPE TOWN – Football is not just all beauty and flair. Magical moments may linger in memory - but, more often than not, games are won and points achieved by players who do not hog the spotlight.
Organisation, structure, shape and the defensive side of football are aspects that have become critical in the modern game. Failure in this regard invariably leads to failure on match day.
This, ultimately, is the secret to the Maritzburg United success story this season. And, as the KwaZulu-Natal side prepare to face Free State Stars in the Nedbank Cup final at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday (7pm kickoff), they will again rely heavily on their rock-solid defence, superbly marshalled by the experienced duo of Siyanda Xulu and Bevan Fransman, to pave the way to victory.
After narrowly avoiding relegation two seasons ago, Maritzburg put plans into place to ensure there was no repeat of the same situation.
Xulu has played an influential role in shoring things up at the back for Maritzburg. Just 26-years-old, but the elegant central defender has a wealth of experience, from playing both in South Africa and overseas.
Locally, he’s been at Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs, and he spent three years at FC Rostov in Russia.
He didn’t get much opportunity at Chiefs and, with his career not going anywhere in Gauteng, he took the plunge and made the move to Maritzburg in KZN. It proved to be an inspired decision, with the defender’s experience a valuable asset for the team.
Now, having made it to the Cup final, Xulu is determined to continue to do what he has been doing for Maritzburg all season - and he’s confident they can pull off the win to crown what has been a wonderful campaign.
“When I arrived at Maritzburg, they were already a united squad,” said Xulu. “They had the machine going already and I just had to come in and add value to what they were already doing. There is a great work ethic here and it’s a credit to the technical team of the club.”
“The team always plays with good structure and the information we get with regard to the game plan is always implemented on the field.”
Xulu, though, acknowledged that in Stars, Maritzburg are up against a formidable opponent.
“Stars are a hardworking, experienced side,” said Xulu. “They have played in finals before, I think there are about six or seven of them who have experience of Cup finals, so they know how to go about such big games.”
“What is going to be important is for us to match them for hard work. They are also a pressing, aggressive team, and we have to make sure that we match them for aggression.”
“But, while Stars have their strengths, we have to stick to our own game and what has worked for us this season. We have to continue to use our combination play and always focus on what we have to do.”
Xulu won a trophy with Rostov in 2014 but, when it comes to Cup finals in SA, he hasn’t been all that lucky. Now, he wants to change all that.
“I’ve been to three Cup finals in the PSL during my time with Sundowns and Chiefs,” said Xulu. “But I still haven’t been on the winning side. I’m hoping for fourth time lucky I am feeling confident, though.”