JOHANNESBURG – The stakes might be high in the Soweto Derby between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs on Saturday, but the two clubs will still have key players that are new to the rivalry at the FNB Stadium.
We look at three likely debutants from each club for the weekend’s potential Absa Premiership title decider.
Marshall Munetsi (Pirates)
The 21-year-old Zimbabwean midfielder looks set for a derby debut, given that he’s held his own in the absence of out-of-favour Thamsanqa Sangweni and Issa Sarr.
Added to that, the injury to Abbubaker Mobara in that central role meant that Munetsi, who played in 26 of Baroka FC’s 30 league matches last season, finally got to feature a lot more and sooner than he had perhaps expected.
He’s also been deployed at right back in one of the seven matches where coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic has selected him.
It’s likely he would be at risk to miss the derby should the more experienced players recover in time for this potential title decider, but if they don’t, it will be a big test for Munetsi.
Xola Mlambo (Pirates)
The ex-Bidvest Wits playmaker has not yet established himself as a regular at Pirates, but his quality cannot be questioned.
Mlambo, having been a champion with the Clever Boys a little under a year ago, is an experienced campaigner who won’t freeze on the big derby stage if he gets his chance.
His role at his new club is not yet clear, but the midfielder has had an impact when he has come off the bench following his arrival in January.
In him, the Buccaneers now have a player who can compete with Musa Nyatama for that advanced role in attack – just behind the strikers. With time, it could be difficult for ‘Micho’ to leave him out.
Maybe an important match against rivals Chiefs is one to prove he cannot be ignored.
Justin Shonga (Pirates)
When this Zambian marksman joined Pirates at the beginning of the season, go-to man Thamsanqa Gabuza’s place in the team was under serious threat.
Now that Shonga is finding his feet – scoring five goals in his last nine matches and setting up two more – Gabuza’s time in the spotlight appears over.
The Buccaneers may have a clever goal-poacher here, a man who can give defenders a torrid time and is growing in confidence.
He will test that resolute Chiefs defence on Saturday.
Teenage Hadebe (Chiefs)
He missed the previous Soweto Derby in October due to injury, but hasn’t looked back since making his debut against AmaZulu a month later.
Hadebe has already said making an appearance against Pirates in front of an expected crowd of over 80 000 fans will be the biggest game of his life.
He’s adapted quickly to life at Naturena, arguing that playing in a back-three at his previous club Chicken Inn made the transition seamless.
Siphelele Ntshangase (Chiefs)
Mr ‘Champagne Pass’ has not yet lived up to expectation as an Amakhosi player. But he does deserve a grace period because he spent the better part of the first half of the season, while at Baroka, nursing an injury.
Steve Komphela has been cautious about making him a regular at Chiefs, and maybe that makes sense.
It’s difficult to recover your confidence once the supporters have lost a bit of faith in you as a new arrival. But he has the personality of a player that can thrive in a match of the magnitude of a derby.
Leonardo Castro (Chiefs)
The Colombian striker needs a goal.
Now that he has managed to prove that he is fit enough to start matches, adding to his one thunderous strike on debut against Baroka last month will be a much-needed boost.
Castro is used to the derby atmosphere, having been involved in the Tshwane version, one that is never short of goals and has perhaps overtaken the fixtures between Pirates and Chiefs as far as entertainment value goes.