Nearly five months since the last ball was kicked, professional football in South Africa returns today with the Nedbank Cup semi-finals to be played as a double-header at Orlando Stadium.
Baroka host Bloemfontein Celtic, while Mamelodi Sundowns will tackle Bidvest Wits in the Gauteng Biologically Safe Environment (BSE) the Premier Soccer League (PSL) have set up for the remainder of the season.
It will be interesting to see the standard of football on display, as teams go straight into the business end of the country’s biggest tournament after close to five months without competitive football. It may take a while for players to return to full match fitness, but we’re certainly glad that local football is back.
Sundowns vs Wits
The sale of Wits’ PSL status to Tshakuma Tsha Madzivhandila (TTM) has been the biggest story of the lockdown period. The resumption of football also means that we are now just a month away from the quietus of one of South Africa’s biggest clubs:
99 – Wits are the oldest professional football club currently in the Absa Premiership, as they were formed in 1921, exactly 99 years ago.
For Wits fans (and probably the neutrals), Wits winning the Nedbank Cup in their last season would be the kind of feel-good story that brings a silver lining to their end. But that won’t be easy, as they have to overcome defending South African champions first.
Sundowns have been strong at home this season, and their title challenge is built on a formidable home record. No team has won more points than Sundowns at home, and they have already exceeded their home points total from last season and matched their 2017/18 total, with four home games still to play.
2 – Sundowns have lost just two games at home in all competitions in 2019/20. No side has lost less than them at home this season.
Yet this is a cup tie, five months since the last competitive game, and the form book can go out the window. The sides have met on six occasions in cup competitions in the PSL era, and Sundowns have won four, with Wits winning the other two – none of their clashes have gone to extra-time.
Wits won the most recent Cup meeting between the sides (3-0 in the 2016 MTN8), but Pitso’s Sundowns has never lost at home to Gavin Hunt’s Wits. In fact, Wits last beat Sundowns at home in 2008 – if you still remember Roger de Sa v Gordon Igesund. Even if the form book remains relevant, Wits had been the highest-scoring team in the competition so far:
9 – Wits have scored 9 goals in the Nedbank Cup this season, the joint-most of all sides remaining in the competition (Celtic also 9).
While Sundowns have a strong home record, the absence of some of the factors that make up home advantage (fans, familiar environment etc) could work in Wits’ favour. But whether home or away, ‘Masandawana’ have been solid defensively in the Cup thus far:
0 – Sundowns have kept three clean sheets in three Nedbank Cup matches, and are the only side yet to concede a goal in the tournament.
Hunt v Pitso one last time
28 – Hunt will be coming up against Pitso Mosimane for the 28th time since they first clashed as coaches in 2001. No current coaching duo have met as many times.
Hunt holds the upper hand in the overall head-to-head record (W10 L7), winning many games in the early 2000s. Since Pitso joined Sundowns, the record is much more even (Pitso won six, and Hunt won 5). Hunt’s future is still unknown, so for now, this will be one last rumble in the jungle for South Africa’s two heavyweights.
Baroka v Celtic
Baroka meet Celtic in the other semi-final, and this will be their first-ever meeting in competitive cups. Celtic have the edge in their league record, winning three, drawing four and losing just once in 2017/18.
4 – Baroka have drawn on four occasions with Celtic since they were promoted to the top-flight. Only against Pirates (5) have they drawn more league games.
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By Opta Jabu