Season-openers can be cagey, dull affairs, and even in winning the league and MTN8 last season, the Clever Boys were more a model of efficiency than a non-stop roller-coaster of thrills and spills.
Wits have brought in some serious talent for the new season – they certainly have their best squad I have ever seen – but even excitement around that on Friday was slightly cut down by the fact that Gavin Hunt left star attraction Steven Pienaar on the bench.
And then the game started, and from beginning to end we were treated to an absolute corker, a humdinger as some in this South African football world like to say. There were goals, four of them (including some superb crossing of the ball, usually lesser-spotted in these lands) and there were red cards, including a “karate kick” from Wits’ new Serb defender Slavko Damjanovic, and the most brutally executed head-butt I have seen on a football field, from Siyabonga Dube on Gabadinho Mhango. I don’t of course, condone this kind of blood-lust on the field of play but it certainly added character to the evening.
There was even time for Wits coach Gavin Hunt, Arrows coach Clinton Larsen and Arrows assistant coach Mandla Ncikazi to be sent from the field for a verbal exchange during extra time. I couldn’t exactly hear what was said, but no doubt some expletives were thrown. Then again, if Gavin Hunt were to be sent from the field every time he shouted expletives from the touchline, he might never coach in the PSL again.
The whole event, which led to referee Phillip Tinyani ordering the coaches from the field, smacked slightly of an overreaction from fourth official Victor Hlungwani. But it certainly did add to the atmosphere of the occasion, which finally concluded in a penalty shoot-out and in Wits’ progression to the last four.
I had to feel sorry for Arrows goalkeeper Nkosingiphile Gumede, who saved the first two spotkicks in the shoot-out, but then could only look on as three of his Arrows team-mates couldn’t hit the target. Moeneeb Josephs will probably claim that his pre-penalty wiggling in front of the taker had an influence, but in truth he could have been making a cup of tea as two Arrows players missed the target completely and another hit the angle of post and bar.
Either way, it was thrill-a-minute stuff, and I am pretty sure it is all downhill from here. I have watched enough PSL matches over the years to know you certainly can’t expect this every week, sometimes matchsticks for the eyelids are essential packing. The rest of the MTN8 quarterfinals certainly couldn’t quite live up to Friday night.
Kaizer Chiefs didn’t have any luck against SuperSport, piling the pressure on Steve Komphela. It seems like every week now a doubt is cast over the Chiefs coach’s future, and I feel immense sympathy for a man who always conducts himself with such dignity, even when results are not going his way. But it does now feel like a matter of time before the axe falls.
Would you like to place a soccer bet? Click here to get started in 3 easy steps.