JOHANNESBURG – Their tactics on the night were poles apart - one coach was aggressive and the other was admittedly cautious. But Kaizer Chiefs coach Steve Komphela and his Mamelodi Sundowns counterpart Pitso Mosimane were in agreement that the Absa Premiership standings, prior to yesterday’s round of fixtures, meant that parity had momentarily been restored in South African football, especially during a week when Fifa delegates were in town.
The goalless draw between Chiefs and Sundowns at the FNB Stadium nudged Amakhosi to third place and meant that the Brazilians hold on to their lead at the summit by a comfortable five points. Orlando Pirates, another SA giant that has struggled for the past seasons, beat relegation candidates Platinum Stars 2-0 earlier on the day to go second place.
It’s been sometime since these three usual suspects for the title race were neck and neck.
“I think this is the level of expectation. Now if you have Chiefs, Pirates and Sundowns at the top there, the only beneficiary could be the national game,” Komphela argued. “It even gives and opportunity to Stuart (Baxter, the Bafana coach) to choose without having too many problems.
“Anywhere in the world, leagues are defined by a certain number of teams. If you go to the English Premier League, there are six who are fighting. If you go to Spain, there’s a clear indication who is fighting. The same should happen in South Africa - with respect to the other teams.
“But Chiefs, Pirates and Sundowns must be in charge of the national game, so that we can all grow. You can imagine if one of those drops, then the number of players the national coach has to choose from is less. And if you look back, every time we had strong Sundowns, Chiefs and Pirates the national team got that strength.”
The FNB Stadium also enjoyed a record 70 000-crowd attendance between Chiefs and Sundowns at the weekend. Goals would have been a sweet cherry on top, but the highly tactical game between Komphela and Mosimane still made it worth the money.
And Mosimane was on the same page as the Amakhosi coach about the state of the log table by Saturday night.
“This was a big game. Where can you find 70 000 easily in Africa? Maybe when Zamalek is playing Al Ahly in Egypt. That is why I say sometimes we underestimate our league,” the Sundowns coach said. “Our league is at the top. We also had a top referee on the night in Daniel Bennett. He showed early that he is a Fifa referee, flashing out two yellow cards in the first 10 minutes or so and the game calmed down. We knew that we would also get one.
“That is high level of refereeing and of football.”
Mosimane, winner of the 2016 CAF Champions League and Africa’s Coach of the Year a few months after that triumph, compared the fixture against Chiefs to one of the big matches he’s coached in on the continent.
“You can play this type of game against Zamalek, Al Ahly, Esperance and Wydad Casablanca. Those are big giants, and it shows we should not undermine our league,” he said.