JOHANNESBURG - Realising their limitations transformed SuperSport United into the Cup specialists they are today as they chase a third successive Cup final appearance after playing in the Telkom Knockout and Nedbank Cup finals last season.
But Matsatsantsa have to first get past a Maritzburg United on the rise in the second leg of the MTN8 semi-finals at Harry Gwala Stadium on Saturday. The Team of Choice have already made history by reaching the last four, making this the club’s first appearance in the semi-finals of the MTN8. They marked that occasion by stunning SuperSport with a late goal in the first leg at Lucas Moripe Stadium to end the tie with a 1-1 draw. While Maritzburg are driven by optimism, SuperSport can bank on experience having won three of four finals in the last three seasons.
“What we have been able to do is to focus on consistently good Cup performances,” SuperSport’s chief executive Stanley Matthews said. “We have reached a number of Cup finals. Not just the six that we have won. There are six that we have lost as well.
"Those 12 Cup finals have been great for the club, our profile, players, sponsors and fans. That’s been fantastic. We’ve taken the view that because we haven’t had the strength of squad to push on in the league (we would focus on doing well in knockout competitions).
“When you finish fifth, sixth or fourth, it doesn’t mean much but when you annex a trophy also, it’s material for your brand, commercial value, your sponsors, stakeholders, board, staff and everybody. Everybody wins when the team is winning. We took a prudent view of the situation and decided to target Cup but not at the detriment of the league, but you have to make a choice.”
Another pragmatic approach could see SuperSport reap rich rewards. The club approached the Caf Confederation Cup with a view of testing their strength, fielding their fringe players while their regulars competed for the PSL and set out to retain the Nedbank Cup. Those fringe players surpassed expectations to take the Tshwane side to their first appearance in the group stage of the secondary continental club competition.
Despite going 19 matches unbeaten in the league, matching Kaizer Chiefs’ record, SuperSport were blown out of the title race but were able to become the first club to retain the Nedbank Cup under its current name. The expectations for the club this season is for them to not only do well in the knockout competitions but also challenge for the league that has eluded them for seven years.
“Us doing well in the league shows the good and the bad of our club,” SuperSport midfielder Thuso Phala said. “We do well in cups because we are lucky, and we know how to make the most of the moment. Cups are about instincts and momentum.
"We have the killer instinct in short sprints, which is why we have done well. But we lack that consistency over the long run in the league and we end up losing games that we shouldn’t. We want to strike the right balance this season. Reaching the final of the first tournament will give the coach and the players confidence that we can do well in the league because this will set the foundation.”