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MTN8 SEMIS IS A LITMUS TEST FOR BUCS FOR THIS SEASON

Nie Cele

Soweto giants Orlando Pirates will be hoping lady luck is on their side when they host MTN8 defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns at Orlando Stadium tomorrow in front of an expected full house crowd.

This first leg semifinal is expected to be a humdinger match given that Sundowns are defending champions whereas  for Buccaneers it will be a quest to try and win the first trophy on offer for the season under the tutelage of their little known Spanish tactician  Jose Riveiro who to date has achieved 4 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses in the Dstv Premiership League.

According to Bucs website orlandopirates,com

After three weeks of no competitive action, Orlando Pirates are in preparation for what’s perhaps their trickiest assignment so far this season, and captain Innocent Maela believes it’s important that they give themselves every chance to remain in the hunt for silverware.

There are potentially three important fixtures in the MTN 8 standing between the Buccaneers and hoisting the first trophy on offer this season, and that quest continues on Saturday with the first leg of the semifinal tie against defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns.

The defender will be leading his teammates out the tunnel at Orlando Stadium in a game that’s undoubtedly one of the most important in his young captaincy, having been awarded the armband prior to the start of the ongoing season.

With over 150 professional games under his belt, Maela is well versed on the subject of pressure, and has had some time to get accustomed to the responsibilities that come with being the leader of the group.

“Whether you wear the armband or not, the pressure is the same as long as you’re representing the team,” he told Orlandopiratesfc.com in an exclusive interview. 

“There will always be pressure to deliver and perform, so for me it’s been the same, but obviously this season I’ve assumed more responsibility and accountability within the group.”

The 30-year-old will head into the fixture as one of the few players at a slight advantage in terms of match readiness, following his outing with the national team where he had a full run during South Africa’s 4-0 routing of Sierra Leone last Saturday.

He believes that running out in a competitive setting during the FIFA break will have done his fitness no harm.

“Playing competitive matches helps because they keep you switched on,” Maela said. “The preparation is different to what you get when you’re training and not playing any games. This past weekend I had a competitive full 90 minutes, and I think that will go a long way.”

Since returning to the Bucs camp midway through the week, all focus has been on the return of domestic football, which kicks off with the much-anticipated clash that will be playing out in front of a potential full house in Soweto.

Maela acknowledged the magnitude of the occasion but cautioned against being overawed by the moment, with a good performance on Saturday crucial to Pirates’ chances of reclaiming the trophy they last hoisted two years ago.

“We’re playing against a very good team, but we have a plan,” Maela said. “We know how to play the game and we must make sure that we don’t play the occasion, but play the game. 

“It’s also very important for us to do well in the first leg because it’s our home game in front of our supporters. At the end of the day, it’s a tie with two legs so we have to be smart and we need to know how to play in a certain way to give ourselves a chance going into the second leg and ultimately progress to the final.”

The first leg of the MTN 8 semifinal between Pirates and Sundowns kicks off at 15:30, with the second leg set to take place at Peter Mokaba Stadium on Saturday, 22 October

MATCH FACTS

• Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns have long been rivals in the MTN8 competition, but this will be their first meeting in pursuit of this cup in 11 years.

• They have met on 11 occasions prior since 1985 – including in two finals, both of which were won by Sundowns (1992 & 2007).

• The Brazilians hold the edge in clashes in the competition, but only just. They have four wins to Pirates’ three, with another four games drawn. In matches at Pirates it is a different a story though with the home side leading the head-to-head 3-1 and one draw.

• The quarterfinals in 1990 saw Sundowns claim a 6-1 victory that for almost three decades was Pirates heaviest ever defeat … until Sundowns beat them 6-0 in the league during the 2016/17 season. Incidentally, Pirates thumped Sundowns 4-0 that same season 32 years ago which is still their biggest win over The Brazilians.

• The last time these teams met in the MTN8 was in the semifinals in the 2011/12 campaign when Pirates came out on top in a fierce tussle. They won the home leg 3- 2, before the teams played to a 1-1 draw in the second game.

• In all matches played between the sides since 1985, Sundowns also hold the edge of 43 wins to 31 for Pirates and another 30 draws. They have outscored their opponents 139-100.

• In all matches played at Pirates, Sundowns still hold the edge, though by a narrower margin. They have 21 wins to 17 for The Buccaneers, with only 12 of the 50 matches drawn. Sundowns lead the goals tally 68-51.

• The teams have met 29 times in all cup games, and Pirates actually have fared better on this score. They have 10 wins to Sundowns’ nine, with another 10 draws. They have scored 31 goals, but Sundowns have netted 40.

• Sundowns have had much the better of recent clashes. They have won the last four, dating back to April 2021, scoring 13 goals in the process and conceding only two. Pirates have simply not found a way to contain them of late, though the last of those clashes was all the way back in December 2021, some 10 months ago.

• Sundowns are seeking back-to-back MTN8 final appearances after lifting the trophy last year when they beat Cape Town City on penalties.

• Pirates were winners in 2020 as they beat Bloemfontein Celtic in the decider, so this is a clash between the last two champions of the competition. COMPETITION FACTS

• This will be the 15th edition of the MTN8 tournament after sponsors MTN took over in 2008. It was announced in 2016 that MTN has extended their sponsorship of the competition for a further six years to 2022.

• The winners of this year’s tournament will once again pocket R8-million, the richest prize money in South African knockout football. The other seven competing sides will take home R800,000, irrespective of where they finish.

• This will be the 48th instalment of the MTN8 competition since the first event was first staged in 1972. It has been played every year bar 1977, and 1997-1999, when it briefly fell off the South African football calendar. When the new Premier Soccer League was formed, the competition was done away with until being restored to the calendar in 2000.

• Kaizer Chiefs are the most successful club in MTN8 history with 15 victories from 21 final appearances. Their previous win was in 2014 when a first half goal from Tefu Mashamaite gave them a 1-0 victory over Soweto rivals Orlando Pirates. Pirates are the next most successful side with 10 title triumphs from 16 finals. After that the next highest number of wins is just four by current champions Mamelodi Sundowns.

• Forty of the 47 previous winners have come from Gauteng, with three victories for the Western Cape (Santos, Ajax Cape Town and Cape Town City), and one each for the Free State (Bloemfontein Celtic), KwaZulu-Natal (Lamontville Golden Arrows), Mpumalanga (Witbank Aces) and North West (Platinum Stars)

• Orlando Pirates won the first ever final as they edged Kaizer Chiefs 3-2, which included a Buccaneers debut for future Bafana Bafana coach Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba. It was Pirates’ first win over Chiefs in official competition.

• Eight finals have gone to extra-time, three involving Cape Town City (one win, two losses), two Kaizer Chiefs (both won), Orlando Pirates (one win, one loss), SuperSport United (one win, one loss) and Mamelodi Sundowns (one win). The other was between Jomo Cosmos and Moroka Swallows, and was won 3-2 by Ezenkosi.

• Seven of those finals have gone to penalty shoot-outs: 2001 Kaizer Chiefs 2-2 Mamelodi Sundowns [aet; Chiefs won 7-6 on pens] 2008 Kaizer Chiefs 0-0 Mamelodi Sundowns [aet, Chiefs won 4-3 on pens] 2010 Orlando Pirates 1-1 Moroka Swallows [aet, Pirates won 4-2 on pens] 2013 Platinum Stars 1-1 Orlando Pirates [aet, Stars won 3-1 on pens] 2017 SuperSport United 1-1 Cape Town City [aet, United won 4-2 on pens] 2018 Cape Town City 0-0 SuperSport United [aet, City won 4-1 on pens] 2021 Mamelodi Sundowns 1-1 Cape Town City [aet, Sundowns won 3-2 on pens]

• Two finals have gone to replays: 1988 Mamelodi Sundowns 1-1 / 1-1 Arcadia [Sundowns won replay 1-0] 1996 Orlando Pirates 1-1 QwaQwa Stars [Pirates won replay 3-0]

• The most goals scored by a player in a top eight match is five by David Dolo for Moroka Swallows as they overwhelmed Winter Roses 11-1 in the 1975 first round.

• There have not always been eight teams in the top eight competition. The league experimented with expanding the Cup and in 1975 there were 16 teams, in 1979 there were 17 and in 1976 there were 32!

• Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates are the only sides to retain the top eight trophy. Chiefs managed it in 1981-1982 and 1991-1992. Pirates managed it in 2010-2011. They did also win the trophy in 1996 and 2000, when there were no tournaments in between.

• The record team score in the MTN8 competition is that 11-1 win for Moroka Swallows over amateurs Winter Roses in the expanded edition in 1975.

• The first ever penalty shootout in the tournament came in 1976 when amateurs Malimo from Welkom upset Bloemfontein Celtic 4-2 on spot-kicks after a 1-1 draw in the opening round. The record penalty shootout score is 9-8 in favour of Dynamos over Swallows in their 1981 semifinal replay.

• In 1975, Manguang United had to forfeit their match against Pirates because they could not obtain enough petrol for their trip to Johannesburg. There were fuel restrictions in those days.

• There have been three cup final hat tricks in the competition’s history – Ace Ntsoelengoe for Chiefs against AmaZulu in 1976, Marks Maponyane for Chiefs against Rangers in 1987 and Phil Masinga for Jomo Cosmos against Chiefs in 1991, when despite his three goals he still finished on the losing side.

• Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper Denis Onyango remarkably saved five Cape Town City penalties in a row in the shoot-out that followed the 2021 final. His team eventually won 3-2 on penalties as the Ugandan gloveman proved the hero.

• The only time the two legs of the final ended tied and the competition needed a final replay was in 1988 when Sundowns edged out neighbours Arcadia, in a match not allowed in Pretoria but played instead at the Rand Stadium in Johannesburg.

• SuperSport United are the only team to appear in every season of the MTN8 competition that was played since the launch of the PSL in the 1996/97 campaign.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION AND PICTURES SOURCED FROM MTN AND ORLANDOPIRATESFC.COM

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