JOHANNESBURG – In a season of its kind, the 12th man will be a no show at the stadiums in the opening weekend of the campaign – having been forced to stay at home and observe the coronavirus pandemic lockdown restrictions.
But it also won’t be the instructions from the coaches and players on the touchline and stands that will make the loudest noise. Instead it will be the result from each of the eight dugouts that will set the tone for the weekend and, hopefully, for the rest of the season.
Every team and their respective coach(es) have everything to play for in the MTN8 quarter-final this weekend.
Ask Joel Masutha. Did he, by any chance, think that he’ll be coaching a team that’s playing in the most rewarding cup competition of the season?
The answer remains a mystery, considering that in his previous two coaching assigments he coached teams – Black Leopards and Chippa United – that have an incredible pedigree of being relegation candidates.
But thanks to Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila (TTM), who bought the status of Bidvest Wits last season, Masutha is set for a whole new experience. His Tshakhuma will host the match at Thohoyandou Stadium this afternoon (3pm kick-off).
However, meeting defending champions SuperSport United who are eyeing their fourth successive final – after winning two out of the last three – relatively tips the Venda-based side as underdogs.
After all, SuperSport’s coach Kaitano Tembo knows the importance of starting well. After winning the MTN8 trophy last season, SuperSport went on to finish fifth on the Premiership standings, building on their last two finishes – seventh and sixth respectively under the Zimbabwe-born mentor.
But a person who’ll comprehend better the importance of progress is Orlando Pirates coach Josef Zinnbauer. He punched above his weight last term and steered the Sea Robbers’ ship to an incredible third place finish after joining the team when they were languishing in the bottom half of the standings.
That the 50-year-old coach overturned Pirates’ fortunes in just six months and that he led the team to a continental qualifying spot deserves all the plaudits. But with a full pre-season under his belt – including the arrival of players such as Thulani Hlatshwayo – nothing less than silverware will be expected at the end of the term.
Do not expect Pirates’ shot at redemption – after going six seasons without a trophy – to be easy though. Their visitors at Orlando Stadium tonight (6pm kick-off), Cape Town City, know the thrills that come with winning the MTN8 title.
In 2018, the Citizens achieved that feat under coach Benni McCarthy and were among the pacesetters towards the end of the season.
However, in this instance, it may just be fellow Capetonian boy Gavin Hunt who needs the win in the opening weekend.
Last month Hunt took over the reins at Kaizer Chiefs after the club dismissed coach Ernst Middendorp. The German tactician lost their grip on the Premiership title on the last day of the season as the team extended their trophy-less run to five seasons.
The 56-year-old Hunt will be hopeful that Chiefs’ past misfortunes do not follow them to his reign, as they will clash with their bogey club Maritzburg United in the last eight of the MTN8 at home, FNB Stadium, tomorrow (3pm kick-off).
Out in Chloorkop, coach Manqoba Mngqithi will be hopeful of a déjà vu outing in the Wafa Wafa competition. In 2009, Mngqithi led Golden Arrows to the MTN8 crown, after humiliating Cape Town Spurs 6-0 at Orlando Stadium.
The former Arrows coach, though, is now a co-coach with Rhulani Mokwena at Mamelodi Sundowns. Both were promoted after being assistants to former coach Pitso Mosimane, who won all the domestic trophies at the club, except the MTN8.
Mngqithi, Mokwena and senior coach Steve Komphela, however, have a huge task on their hands as they can only progress to the next round of the MTN8 if they defeat Bloemfontein Celtic – the team Sundowns beat 1-0 in the Nedbank Cup final last term – at Lucas Masterpieces Stadium tomorrow (6pm kick-off).