JOHANNESBURG – The tunnel that leads to Mbombela Stadium’s pitch resembles Dante’s version of hell in Divine Comedy for the Soweto giants when SuperSport United are the team at the other end.
A large inscription with “abandon hope all ye who enter”, just like in the entrance of Dante’s hell, towers over Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs at the venue that hosted games during the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
They’re the only ones who see it such is the spell Matsatsantsa a Pitori hold them under in Mbombela. The Buccaneers’ downward spiral of two seasons ago started there at the hands of SuperSport, who washed them away in a rain-filled night by handing them a 6-1 thumping.
Then coach Muhsin Ertugral resigned in the early hours of the following morning, while still in Mbombela. Pirates flirted with relegation and eventually finished 11th, their worst finish in the PSL era.
The Sea Robbers returned there last month and SuperSport handed them yet another defeat. Matsatsantsa’s arrogance at the venue was displayed by Ronwen Williams, who chest-trapped an attempt at goal, not wanting to soil his hands with a lame shot.
Amakhosi have to overcome that mental challenge tonight against Matsatsantsa. What should give them confidence is that the last time they took on SuperSport in Mbombela, in December last year as the home team, Amakhosi took all three points. Their slim chances of fighting for the championship will come crashing down if Amakhosi don’t get maximum points again from SuperSport.
But the Tshwane side’s coach Kaitano Tembo doesn’t believe this match is a title eliminator between seventh-placed Chiefs and his team in fifth place, five points behind log leaders Mamelodi Sundowns.
“It is a crucial game to win but I don’t think that it will be the end (of the title race if we don’t win),” Tembo said.
“If you look at all the teams in the top seven, they still have to play each other. We still have to play Sundowns, Polokwane City and now we’re playing Chiefs. Points are going to be dropped because we also still need to play (Bidvest) Wits. I don’t think that this game will show us where we’re going, but it would be a good thing for us to win so that we get closer to those at the top.”
Chiefs are on a purple patch of some sort. Amakhosi have collected seven out of nine points in their last three matches.
“Their strongest point is that they’re very unpredictable,” Tembo said in his analysis of Chiefs. “They can adapt to any way of playing. Sometimes they play a diamond formation in midfield and they have the players to do that.
Sometimes they play with three at the back and overload the midfield and up front. So they are very unpredictable. That’s their advantage. They have speed from (Dumisani) Zuma and Khama (Billiat). They look very solid and they are structured in defence.”
While Amakhosi were ridiculed for saying that they’re in the title race, Tembo agrees with the club that the names of the championship contenders could drastically change in the upcoming matches.
“The teams from No 1 to No 7 are all mathematically in the title race,” Tembo said. “If you focus too much on how many points the team above you has more than you, you’ll lose sight of what you need to do in terms of your performance.
Your performance is what leads you to win games. That’s what we need to focus on.”