5 Things From the Return of South African Football

Five Things We Learned After the Return of South African Football
By Leonard Solms

It is a new normal for South African football in many respects. Although the professional game has finally returned, it hasn’t come back exactly as we knew it before.

While some of the new features were expected, some trends were impossible to anticipate.

Here are five key observations from the opening days of South African club soccer post-lockdown:

1. Goalkeepers are rusty too

Much of the pre-comeback talk was centred around physical fitness, but many players – and particularly goalkeepers – will also need to work back to maximum alertness.

Elvis Chipezeze had a poor game for Baroka in their 3-0 Nedbank Cup defeat to Bloemfontein Celtic, often rushing off his line too quickly. Meanwhile, Brighton Mhlongo’s errors cost Bidvest Wits dearly in the 3-2 defeat to Mamelodi Sundowns.

Wayne Sandilands and Denis Onyango redeemed the goalkeepers’ union with clean sheets when Orlando Pirates played Sundowns in the league, but Ricardo Goss was shaky at times for Bidvest Wits against Kaizer Chiefs. 

He made one particularly poor judgement call when he rushed out and effectively allowed Samir Nurkovic to shoot at an empty net, but the striker fluffed his lines. Even Daniel Akpeyi was not quite at his imposing best.

2. Youngsters aren’t there to make up the numbers

The Nedbank Cup semi-final between Wits and Sundowns saw standout performances from Rowan Human and Keletso Makgalwa. Plenty of other youngsters have seen game time on the big stage during the last few days.

With teams feeling the financial pinch of COVID-19, most are expected to increase their focus on developing young talent at the expense of big-name signings.

Teams with an established track record of producing quality at youth level, such as SuperSport United, will likely benefit from this trend.

3. Nurkovic isn’t giving up the Golden Boot without a fight

Gabadinho Mhango currently leads the top scorers’ race, but he faces stiff competition from the likes of Samir Nurkovic, Bongi Ntuli and Bradley Grobler.

After Mhango’s quiet performance in Pirates’ stalemate with Sundowns, Nurkovic reminded us why he is hot on the Malawian hitman’s heels.

Having met a Lebogang Manyama corner to score in the 36th minute against Wits, he nearly put the game to bed in the 88th, rifling into the woodwork. The Serbian striker claimed the Man of the Match prize and it would not be surprising to see him bag many more.

4. Some teams thrive with backs to the wall

We have seen gutsy performances from Bloemfontein Celtic, who reportedly face an uncertain future, and Bidvest Wits, who have already sold their PSL status to Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila (TTM FC).

Celtic entered a new era under John Maduka following Lehlohonolo Seema’s departure to pick up the coaching reins at Chippa United. As they did following the arrival and subsequent departure of Steve Komphela, the players held their heads up and delivered a strong performance.

As a result of Phunya Sele Sele’s 3-0 win over Baroka, Maduka will now have the chance to lead them to silverware in the Nedbank Cup final against Mamelodi Sundowns.

Masandawana themselves were handed a stern test by the Clever Boys, who ran them to the wire in a five-goal thriller. It took a piece of magic from a Lyle Lakay free-kick to put the Students to the sword.

After a dreadful start to their subsequent league game against Kaizer Chiefs, Wits rallied back and equalised through Cole Alexander, even coming close to scoring a dramatic late winner.

For all that Wits and Celtic have gone through off the field, they are none the worse for wear on it, and no opponents can expect them to roll over.

5. Goals are hard to come by in the GladAfrica Championship

The First Division resumed with an entertaining 2-2 draw between Richards Bay and TS Sporting, but that would ultimately prove to be a false start. 

Real Kings beat Cape Umoya United 2-0 in the next game and TTM FC then downed Jomo Cosmos 2-1. Since then, there have been seven games on the trot featuring two goals or less, including five 0-0 draws.

Fortunately for league leaders Ajax Cape Town, they were one of the few teams who managed to get on the scoresheet. Abednego Mosiatlhaga’s late winner secured a 1-0 win over Richards Bay to move them one step closer to promotion.

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