Pizarro a welcome visitor to our shores

Bremen's Claudio Pizarro PA/Carmen Jaspersen  GERMANY OUT

Bremen's Claudio Pizarro PA/Carmen Jaspersen GERMANY OUT

After almost 20 years covering the Premier Soccer League and Bafana Bafana it is all too easy to get a bit cynical about the game in SA.

With this in mind it was a joy to witness Saturday’s meeting of Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns in part through the smiling eyes of Peruvian striker Claudio Pizarro.

Pizarro is, in an attempt at an admittedly slightly tenuous PSL connection, the Siyabonga Nomvethe of Peruvian football, still plying his trade at 40 years old, in the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen. Bremen are in South Africa for their winter break, and played a thunderstorm-affected friendly against Chiefs on Sunday, while they will also face Bidvest Wits on Friday.

Ahead of the Amakhosi game, Pizarro and a couple of his team-mates attended the Chiefs-Sundowns game at FNB Stadium. And Pizarro revelled in the party atmosphere, grinning broadly, mainly at the reaction of the fans as Sundowns took the lead, and Chiefs equalised. At half-time, he said that the passion of the supporters did remind him of his native Peru, where interestingly enough, he also said he may have trained as a kid under the brother of former Orlando Pirates head coach Augusto Palacios, who Pizarro met up with in South Africa.

Pizarro has been there and done most of it in the world of football, playing for both Bayern Munich and Chelsea – after netting for Bremen again this season he has now scored in 20 consecutive seasons of league football. With this in mind it was refreshing to see his unrelenting enthusiasm for the game, both on and off the pitch. He added that he feels so good even at 40 that he is not sure when he will retire!

Pizarro and his colleagues left before Virgil Vries’ mistake had enabled Sundowns to grab the win over Chiefs, as they had to go to training, but he probably could have been 90 and still managed to tap in the effort that Lebo Maboe stroked home from on the goalline following Vries’ blunder.

It was a shame for Chiefs after they had outplayed Sundowns for much of the 90 minutes, but there is a tendency for sides to pay if they cannot make the most of their opportunities. It is clear that Ernst Middendorp has had an impact in his short time at the club, but it remains to be seen if this is a lasting effect. Chiefs may well struggle to keep clean sheets without the injured Itumeleng Khune, who has at times in recent seasons almost won points for his side single-handedly, or double-handedly if you like, with outstanding displays between the posts.

Everyone, meanwhile, is chasing Bidvest Wits, whose away record in the Absa Premiership this season is ridiculously good. Seven wins and two draws on the road is title-winning form, make no mistake about it, and their five-point lead over the rest will be difficult to shut down in the coming months.

Gavin Hunt has done well to make last season look like a blip, and nothing more serious, and if the Clever Boys can also sort out their inconsistent home form, then it is hard to see anything other than a second league title in three seasons.

Orlando Pirates and Sundowns will likely have a serious say in that, but Pitso Mosimane’s men were not convincing on Saturday, while Pirates were lucky to draw 2-2 against Highlands Park.

All that remains is for me to wish all our readers a very Happy New Year and to remind you of the continuing opportunity to join Phakaaathi’s Private Fantasy League on Page 7, where you could win great monthly prizes.


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