Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs will go head-to-head in the first leg of the semifinals of the MTN8 on Saturday, in an intriguing match-up between the two Soweto giants, that should provide plenty of thrills and spills even with no fans inside Orlando Stadium.
Phakaaathi Editor Jonty Mark takes a look at five things to look out for as the Buccaneers and Amakhosi face off for the first time this season.
The Sound of Silence
Saturday’s Soweto Derby will be played behind closed doors, in the face of the never-ending coronavirus pandemic, meaning the only vuvuzelas you will hear in Orlando Stadium on Saturday will be those put on top of the live video by those clever sound engineers at SuperSport. 90 000 people would usually pack in to FNB Stadium for a game like this, a sea of gold and black and black and white, fans of both teams mingling together, the smell of marijuana wafting through the air. Now, the stadium will be desolate, bar the players, coaching staff, and a few select others, and it will certainly be strange for those Chiefs and Pirates players and staff used to the crazy derby day atmosphere.
Nigeria v Ghana in goal
The goalkeeping positions should certainly give a continental flavour to the derby on Saturday if, as expected, Daniel Akpeyi is in goal for Chiefs and Richard Ofori plays in his first derby for Pirates. Akpeyi was superb for Chiefs last season, and if Gavin Hunt briefly flirted with Itumeleng Khune as his number one, an out-of-sorts performance against Sundowns saw Akpeyi restored to the side as soon as he was available again after passport issues. It would be a huge surprise if the Nigerian doesn’t play against Pirates, and his opposite number will almost certainly be Ofori, who made his Pirates debut this week in the 1-1 draw with Stellenbosch.
Gavin Hunt’s first Soweto Derby
After over 20 years coaching in South Africa, Gavin Hunt will finally take charge of a team in a Soweto Derby, and the wily Amakhosi mentor has had a reasonable start to his Chiefs career, setting aside the 3-0 thumping by Mamelodi Sundowns. Chiefs were much better against Chippa United in midweek, creating chance after chance, though it might concern Hunt that it took an own goal to get his side over the line. Hunt has a greater array of attacking talent available to him at Chiefs than he ever had at Wits, and will hope they start firing soon.
Is Josef Zinnbauer already under pressure?
It does seem a little ridiculous to talk of Orlando Pirates’ German head coach to be feeling the heat, after he did superbly to guide the team to a third-place finish last season, and after what is, after all, an unbeaten start to the 2020/21 campaign. Yet Pirates only just about got over the line in the MTN8 quarterfinals against Cape Town City and their performances against AmaZulu and Stellenbosch in the league have left a lot to be desired, especially for a team that has signed so many top class players ahead of the new campaign. Pirates were themselves reported to be already flirting with Gavin Hunt before Chiefs snapped him up, and if Zinnbauer loses the derby, expect tongues to start wagging once more.
Can Khama Billiat finally be the star of the derby show?
Khama Billiat’s struggles since joining Kaizer Chiefs from Mamelodi Sundowns have been well-documented – the Zimbabwean striker has battled to impose himself the way he did at Masandawana, in an Amakhosi team that hasn’t always played to his strengths, especially under Ernst Middendorp. With Gavin Hunt in charge, however, the signs do look better for Billiat, who appears to be enjoying more freedom on the field, even if that hasn’t yet translated into goals. The Soweto Derby should be a game made for a player of Billiat’s talent, and perhaps this will be the day when he is the star of the show.