CAPE TOWN - Cape Town City central defender Kwanda Mngonyama has been patiently waiting for his opportunity. At the weekend, he was introduced at half-time in an MTN8 semi-final first leg tie against Mamelodi Sundowns, and he never put a foot wrong: he grabbed the opportunity.
Because opportunity is everything in football, when given a chance against Sundowns, Mngonyama rose to the occasion. Now, with City in league action way to Free State Stars at Goble Park in Bethlehem tonight (7.30pm), Mngonyama has a further opportunity, in that he can make the centre-back position alongside Taariq Fielies his own.
This season, though, instead of Mngonyama immediately slotting in for the departed Robyn Johannes, City coach Benni McCarthy opted to give new Ivorian defender Kouassi Kouadja the nod next to Fielies. Kouadja had a promising enough start, but was disappointing in the first half against Sundowns at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday. So, as is McCarthy’s style, rather than prolong the defender’s misery, he substituted him at half-time, and gave Mngonyama his opportunity.
And, boy, did Mngonyama do well. Not only did his presence in defence add more steel and aggression, but he also popped up in the opposition penalty area for set-pieces, where his physicality and aerial ability were a real threat. It was, therefore, no surprise that it was Mngonyama was provided the assist for Fielies’ winning goal in the first leg against Sundowns.
“Kwanda has been up for it and he has been buzzing at training,” said McCarthy. “In fact, I was tempted to start him - because I know he has an apple to peel with Sundowns (the player’s former club). “But I decided against it because I didn’t want to disrupt the defence; our back four and back five (including the goalkeeper Peter Leeuwenburgh) have done well.
"I didn’t want to change the whole shape of the game, so I thought I would introduce Kwanda in the second half. Kouassi was giving the ball away too much, I felt he was a little bit off, so I brought Kwanda on at half-time, and he gave me what I expected he would.”
Kwanda Mngonyama made his return from injury and put in a solid 45 minutes, contributing immensely to our clean sheet in Saturday's 1-0 win over Downs! 💪💙#iamCityFC #Mngonyama45 pic.twitter.com/akOuVdS7AA
Nedbank Cup champions Stars have had a stuttering start to the season, but it is dangerous to under-estimate the Free Staters. They don’t lose easily at Goble Park, and in Belgian Luc Eymael they have a wily tactician.
With the MTN8 second leg against Sundowns scheduled for Sunday, the City coach is likely to tweak his starting team. Despite this, and despite what he terms the “ugly travel” of getting to the venue, he is quietly confident they can get a positive result.