CAPE TOWN - Ajax Cape Town are able to prepare for the opening round of the Telkom Knockout Cup this weekend with a lot more confidence and belief. Under pressure after a struggling start to the season, Saturday night’s 2-1 victory over Bloemfontein Celtic gave the team and head coach Stanley Menzo a lot more breathing space.
There was certainly a lot to like about Ajax’s first half performance - and, if they build on it, and the character they showed when Celtic came back strongly in the second half, it shouldn’t be too long before Menzo and his team start marching up the log standings.
But, this weekend, league action takes a break, with Ajax on the road to the Limpopo Province for a tricky Cup fixture against Polokwane City on Saturday, while neighbours Cape Town City are in the same region to face Baroka FC on Sunday.
For Menzo, though, there were a lot of positives to take from the performance against Celtic.
“In the first half we played our best football of the season,” said the Ajax coach. “We dominated and it was all about the win. Celtic pushed and pressed us higher in the second half, but I thought we won the match with our first half performance. You cannot play like Barcelona for the whole game, so, under the circumstances, I was happy with the win.
“It’s all about the team. Yes, I’m responsible, but the team has to do the job. I have to give them confidence, but the players have to believe they can win. When the game starts, they have to play Against Celtic, they showed me they can do it.”
Ajax’s goals were scored by Bantu Mzwakali and Tashreeq Morris - and Menzo was particularly pleased for Mzwakali. Always rated highly as a player, he has been plagued by inconsistency, which is why he hasn’t seen too much game time this season. But Menzo took a gamble on the player and he rose to the occasion against Celtic.
“Bantu was perfect, he made good runs and I was happy for him,” said the former Ajax Amsterdam and Netherlands goalkeeper. “That is the Bantu that I want to see, and I also want to see more of the Bantu who scores goals. The goal he scored would have given him confidence that he can score”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s Cup game against Polokwane, and the rest of the season, Menzo was hopeful that the Celtic win had placed Ajax on the right track.
“Going forward, I think the result was good for the team’s confidence,” he said. “Confidence is important for the players, it gives them the belief that they don’t have to be afraid to make mistakes, and that they can win. I thought we played some really good football in the first half when the team performed with confidence.”
Telkom Knockout Cup first round fixtures:
Friday: Maritzburg United v Platinum Stars
Saturday: Golden Arrows v Orlando Pirates; Polokwane City v Ajax Cape Town (Old Peter Mokaba Stadium, 3.30pm); Bloemfontein Celtic v SuperSport United; Kaizer Chiefs v AmaZulu; Bidvest Wits v Free State Stars
Sunday: Baroka FC v Cape Town City (Peter Mokaba Stadium, 3.30pm); Chippa United v Mamelodi Sundowns