Some 90 000 people will cram themselves into the FNB Stadium for the sixth year running, having been handed the chance to select their very own Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates sides to compete in a Soweto derby.
It is a massive pre-season money-maker for two clubs that probably don’t really need the cash, and a chance for Steve Komphela and Muhsin Ertugral to cast their eyes over their sides, even if they didn’t pick them. It is likely that the starting XI that takes the field for both Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates’ opening PSL matches will be very different from Saturday, given that the voting process doesn’t allow much room for new signings.
Nevertheless the game is perhaps also a chance for players who could find themselves on the fringes when the real stuff kicks off to stake another claim – names like Kaizer Chiefs’ Hendrick Ekstein and Orlando Pirates’ Thabo Qalinge immediately spring to mind.
Either way, one hopes for a good game, and that is certainly not guaranteed. Back in 2011, a huge marketing campaign involving Ruud Gullit was followed by an awful goalless draw. The 2014 match was also an insipid affair, though last year’s was slightly better. If you are a betting man, pick Pirates to win on penalties – they have done so in four of the five events so far. We look forward to the Black Label Cup opposite, though Chiefs fans may be more concerned by the signings their club have not made, as Sibongiseni Gumbi points out.
It was significant yesterday that it was Mamelodi Sundowns flaunting Sibusiso Vilakazi, and we get his reaction to finally signing for the Brazilians, as well as looking ahead to Mamelodi Sundowns’ Champions League game with Zamalek this week. The Brazilians have certainly made the most so far of a second chance in this year’s competition and are on the brink of the semifinals.
Elsewhere, our regular One-on-One section sees us talk to Thapelo Mathibe, who is looking forward to making waves in the Absa Premiership with newly-promoted Highlands Park.
Another young man seeking to make an impression is Thobani Kunene, who was signed by Platinum Stars after excelling in the ABC Motsepe League. We see why he is determined to prove wrong the idea that local strikers are not good any more.
We also take a look at the Under-23 and Banyana Banyana sides, who have both arrived in Rio ahead of their Olympic campaigns. Both sides have had encouraging results ahead of the tournament, with Banyana running the Netherlands and the US close in friendlies, and the men’s team winning the Cosafa Cup in Namibia.
Whether they can both perform on the grander stage of the Olympic Games remains to be seen but it is encouraging that they both qualified, as it is that the national Under-20 side have made it to the African Youth Championships in Zambia next year.
What is not so encouraging is this whole Moroka Swallows/Free State Stars saga, which illustrates that for all the professionalism that the Premier Soccer League aspires to, it can be a total shambles at times. The only encouragement I can get from this is that ultimately Swallows do not look likely to get an absurd route back into the big time.