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Part 1: The History Of The League Cup (Carling Cup)

This week, the PSL launched the Carling Knockout Cup, a new tournament involving all 16 top-flight teams.

Carling Cup

This week, the PSL launched the Carling Knockout Cup, a new tournament involving all 16 top-flight teams. The tournament replaces the Telkom Knockout, which was last competed in 2019, just before the Covid pandemic. Ahead of the kick-off next week, we’re rolling out a four-part series that focuses on the League Cup. Pre-PSL, the same tournament was known as the Datsun Challenge then the JPS Knockout, and then Coca-Cola Cup until 1996. This series will cover the best facts and stats from the Cup in all its versions/sponsorships in the PSL era – from the Rothmans Cup (1997 to 2000), Coca-Cola Cup (2001 to 2005), and the Telkom Knockout (2006 to 2019).

Let’s dive in:

1996 – The First League Cup In The PSL Era

The first League Cup final in the PSL era featured Bush Bucks and Qwa-Qwa Stars in 1996, two sides no longer in the top flight. Both eliminated Pretoria teams in the semis. Stars knocked Sundowns out, and a Wilfred Mugeyi brace helped Bucks overcome Supersport. Imbabala (Bush Bucks) came into the final without the suspended Wilfred Mugeyi, and could only manage a 1-1 draw. But twin brother William Mugeyi scored the only goal in the replay to edge out the Stars and take the title home. Trott Moloto was the winning coach, with the likes of goalkeeper Mark Anderson, Mongi Rula, and the Mugeyi brothers in the outfield.

3 – This was one of only three finals with none of the Big 4 ever-present sides (also 2006 & 2017).

1997 & 1998 – Chiefs And Sundowns Fight For PSL Supremacy

To understand the battle for supremacy in South African football, you’d have to look at the PSL in the early years. From the PSL formation in 1996 to the turn of the millennium, 10 of the 22 domestic Cup finalists were either Sundowns or Chiefs. That’s almost 50%. The Brazilians also won the league in three of the first four seasons, while Chiefs finished 2nd thrice in the same period. The 1997 Rothmans Cup final was another battle in the war and it was equally tight, finishing 1-1, with both goals coming in the final 10 minutes of normal time through Thabang Lebese & Raphael Chukwu. Extra time didn’t change the result, so a replay was needed, but that also ended 1-1 with Chukwu grabbing the equaliser late in normal time. Amakhosi would win 3-2 on penalties.

A similar story played out in 1998. Same competition. Same teams. Similar result. 1-1 after 90 minutes, 1-1 in extra-time. 2-2 after extra time. Again, Chiefs won on penalties (2-1).

3 – Only three penalties were converted in the 1998 Rothmans Cup final penalty shootout (out of twelve), the fewest of all penalty shootouts in the tournament’s finals.

1999 – The Rothmans Cup

After two unsuccessful attempts, Sundowns finally won the Rothmans Cup in 1999, beating Free State Stars 2-0 in the final. This was the only Rothmans Cup final that did not need extra time or a replay to be settled. Paul Dolezar had switched from Chiefs to Sundowns & seemed to have brought the lucky charm with him. They secured the double with a league title later.

3 – Paul Dolezar led Sundowns to the 1999 Rothmans Cup title, after leading Chiefs to the 1997 and 1998 titles. He is the only PSL coach to win the tournament in three straight years.

2000 – The End Of Dominance And Upsets All-Around

The last tournament named the Rothmans Cup came in 2000. From the onset, the tournament was filled with upsets. Sundowns were eliminated in the 1st round by Moroka Swallows. Chiefs suffered the same fate, at the hands of Ria Stars. Pirates and Ajax Cape Town would meet in the final, with Pirates heavy favorites for the win. The initial game ended 1-1, and a replay was scheduled. In the subsequent replay, the Buccaneers were thumped 4-1 by Ajax, true to the unpredictable nature of that tournament. Carlo Scott, Brett Evans (2), and Jeremy Jansen were on the scoresheet for the Capetonians, with Jerry Sikhosana adding a consolation for Pirates.

4 – This was the first time Pirates conceded four goals in a domestic Cup game in the PSL era & remains a joint record for goals conceded by a Pirates side in a domestic Cup game.

From Rothmans To Coca-Cola

What was known as the Rothmans Cup changed to the Coca-Cola Cup in 2001 due to the new rules regarding tobacco sponsorship in sports (Rothmans was a tobacco manufacturer). In hindsight, the Cup could have been renamed the Chiefs and Cosmos Cup and that would have been fitting. Such was the dominance of the two clubs during this period. Where Chiefs and Sundowns battled for supremacy in the late 90s, the early 2000s featured a tense Chiefs-Cosmos battle. By the time sponsorship changed to Telkom in 2006, the two sides had occupied seven out of ten available finalist positions in the League Cup.

2001 – Chiefs Thrash Cosmos

The tone for this mini-rivalry was set early on when Chiefs thrashed Jomo Cosmos 5-0 in the final to win the 2001 Coca-Cola Cup. This was their third league cup title in the first six PSL seasons, meaning they won 50% of the available league Cup trophies, a trend that would continue for the foreseeable future. Chiefs won a treble this season including the BP Top8 and African Cup Winners Cup, and were even crowned CAF Club of the Year.

5 – The 5-goal margin in the 2001 Coca-Cola Cup final is the biggest winning margin for a final in this tournament during the PSL era.

2002 – Cosmos Revenge

Cosmos got their revenge the following season, beating Chiefs 1-0 in the final. PSL legend Tico-Tico Bucuane scored the only goal of the game in one of the most controversial finals in the PSL era. Two decisions stood out, Tico-Tico’s winner is still considered by many to have been offside. And then, Jabu Pule was denied a late penalty which angered Chiefs fans, triggering a 30-minute pause to the game. VAR may have probably reversed both decisions.

2003 – Chiefs Bounce Back!

In 2003, the rivalry was cut short when Cosmos were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Wits. It meant Chiefs met and beat Wits in the semis, leaving Free State Stars as their opponent in the final. Second-half goals from Stanton Fredericks and Patrick Mayo were enough to give Chiefs another title.

4 – This was Kaizer Chiefs’ 4th victory in the tournament in the PSL era, at a time when no other side had won more than one. Till today, no other side has won more than three.

2004 – Chiefs Set A Record

Kaizer Chiefs were relentless in this period and were the defending league & Coca-Cola Cup champions. They lifted the 2004 Coca-Cola Cup, beating Pitso Mosimane’s Supersport 1-0 in the final thanks to Collins Mbesuma’s goal. This was the 5th time they won the tournament in the PSL era. This was their fourth successive Coca-Cola Cup final, and they are still the only PSL side to reach four successive finals of any competition.

3 – Although they lost the 2004 Coke Cup final, Pitso Mosimane’s Supersport became the first PSL side to appear in all three major domestic finals in the same season.

2005 – Cosmos Revenge (Again)

Chiefs and Cosmos would renew their rivalry in 2005, this time in the quarter-finals. Cosmos won 2-0, went on to beat Pirates 1-0 in the semis, and won the final against Supersport via a penalty shootout. This was Cosmos’ 3rd Coca-Cola Cup final in five years and their 2nd title. Only Chiefs (8) & Sundowns (3) have won more League Cups than them in the PSL era.

5 – Despite losing out to Cosmos, the 2005 Coke Cup final was Supersport’s 5th successive major domestic final under Pitso Mosimane, making them the first PSL side to reach five major domestic finals in a row.

The 2005 tournament was the 10th of its kind in the PSL era, but also the last one sponsored by Coca-Cola before sponsorship switched to Telkom.

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