With the perennial dominance of Mamelodi Sundowns in the DStv Premiership, other teams have been reduced to fighting for scraps in the form of second place – which is the only other spot for Caf Champions League soccer.
With the season drawing to a close and fewer than 10 games left to play, every single point is crucial for the teams vying for the coveted second runners-up trophy. Leading the race is Gavin Hunt’s SuperSport United.
Though the Tshwane side trails runaway log leaders Sundowns by a massive 20 points, they are in poll position for a second-placed finish. Matsatsantsa currently enjoy a five-point gap between themselves, third-placed Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs in fourth (both on 34 points). All have eight matches remaining this season.
“We play Pirates on Saturday. Obviously, it is a crucial game for where everybody finishes. We need to go in there with a clear frame of mind about what we are going to do and I’m looking forward to the game,” Hunt said as quoted by Sowetan Live.
“I think all [remaining] games are going to be key. Pirates are right behind us and Kaizer Chiefs are right behind us… So, we can’t look behind us, we just have to look ahead and that’s all we can do.”
Indeed, for Hunt and his charges, the task is simple: keep winning until the campaign concludes. If they manage this feat and stave off the chasing pack, the team will return to Africa’s elite club competition for the first time since 2010, when they last won the domestic league, under Hunt’s guidance.
The team did reach the final of the auxiliary Caf Confederation Cup in 2017, but haven’t participated in any African competition since 2018. As such, they are ravenous to end this barren run. So are the Buccaneers.
The 1995 African champions’ wait for Champions League football is not as lengthy as their Gauteng neighbours, with the team last appearing in the spectacle during the 2018/19 campaign. Then, they were eliminated in the group phase.
“We are playing finals until the end of the season. Every game is going to be crucial for all of us. Including the ones who are playing to survive relegation and the ones who are playing for the possibility to play continental football next season,” Pirates mentor José Riveiro told journalists in his pre-match conference.
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“It goes without saying that for Pirates it’s very important to find ourselves in that position [of Champions League soccer] at the end of the season. There are other teams fighting for the same objective. SuperSport is the one with the advantage,” the Spanish coach added.
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“So, it’s an opportunity to get three points and ensure that our immediate opponent does not get the points, to reduce the gap between us.”
The Buccaneers demolished relegation-threatened Swallows 4-1 in their most recent league outing, but they face a SuperSport side who are undefeated in their past six league encounters. Hunt’s men last tasted defeat against Sundowns in mid-January.
The clash between the two hopefuls for second spot takes place on Saturday, 18 March. It kicks off at 5.45pm.
Chiefs, the other team in the equation for second, are also on a nice run of form. It has been another unsatisfactory season for the Naturena-based side – though they can still salvage it by winning the Nedbank Cup, and finishing second.
Amakhosi have won two matches on the trot in the league and will look to make it a hat-trick against Maritzburg United, who are in their own fight for Premiership survival. That match kicks off two hours after Pirates and SuperSport. DM
DStv Premiership fixtures:
Friday, 17 March:
Swallows vs Golden Arrows (7.30pm)
Stellenbosch vs AmaZulu (7.30pm)
Saturday, 18 March:
Sekhukhune United vs Chippa United (3.30pm)
Orlando Pirates vs SuperSport United (5.45pm)
Maritzburg United vs Kaizer Chiefs (8pm)
Sunday, 19 March:
TS Galaxy vs Richards Bay (3.30pm)