CAPE TOWN – It’s hard to see any other result than a win for defending Premiership champions Mamelodi Sundowns over Stellenbosch FC when the two teams square off at the Athlone Stadium on Wednesday evening (7.30pm kick-off).
Sundowns, who are second in the standings and seven points behind Kaizer Chiefs with two games in hand, arrive in the Mother City as hot favourites to make it a league double over 11th placed Stellies, who put up a brave fight when losing the first-round encounter 3-1 away after leading at half-time.
But expect the home side to put up an almighty fight in front of their supporters as they try to deny the Brazilians a fourth consecutive league victory.
The fact that Sundowns are now fully focused on retaining their title after being knocked out of the CAF Champions League over the weekend spells danger for a Stellies side coming off a 3-0 away defeat to Maritzburg United. On that performance 12 days ago, the Winelands-based team’s chances of toppling the men from Pretoria seems an impossible one, but try telling their coach Steve Barker that.
He’s always a confident fellow and believes his men will be up for the contest.
“Teams like Sundowns don’t like being put under pressure, they want to do all the attacking and put you on the back foot. So our plan is to meet fire with fire and try and inflict some damage where it counts,” said Barker. “Obviously we have to be on guard at the back to snuff out their sorties which I’m sure there will be plentiful of knowing the firepower they possess up front.
“The likes of Gastò* Sirino and Themba Zwane on attack and Hlompho Kekana and Andile Jali marshalling the midfield makes for a difficult team to break down. We will be watching the four closely, they always seem to tick all the right boxes in combat, and defensively Sundowns are the best in the competition having conceded 15 in 20 games. That said, we have good home form and more than just a few players who can pull the trigger in the final third.”
Striker Ryan Moon scored in the first meeting and along with Iqraam Rayners and Waseem Isaacs will be all fired up to have a crack at goal whenever in the area.
Stellies will be without the injured Mpho Matsi (ankle) and possibly two other big-name players in Robyn Johannes and new recruit Nathan Zinkala. “Both are doubtful starters and losing their services will be a big blow if they don’t pass a late fitness test,” said Barker.