Jonty Mark

By Jonty Mark

Football Editor

Five things to look out for in SA football this weekend

It's another action packed weekend across three different competitions.

Sundowns begin another Champions League quest

Rhulani Mokwena will hope his Bafana stars recover quickly from the loss to Rwanda. Picture: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Mamelodi Sundowns will start their Caf Champions League Group A campaign on Sunday when they host Mauritanian champions Nouadhibou at Loftus Stadium. Like Sundowns, Nouadibhou have dominated their domestic championship, winning the last six league titles, but this is their first time in the Champions League group stages.

Sundowns will be heavy favourites to beat their lesser-known opponents on Sunday, and to ultimately win the group, especially on the back of their triumph in the inaugural Caf African Football League.

Sundowns’ Bafana Bafana players will no doubt be relieved to play on a pitch made of grass, where they can execute their slick passing game, after the horrors of Rwanda on Tuesday. Sundowns head coach Rulani Mokwena will hope that his international stars are not too heavy-legged from their World Cup travels.

Are Swallows favourites to beat Chiefs?

Tshegofatso Mabasa has been in fine form for Moroka Swallows this season. Picture: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

Steve Komphela has started a mini-revival at Moroka Swallows, since walking away from Mamelodi Sundowns to go back to being a head coach at the start of the season. Swallows have lost just twice in the DStv Premiership all season, and were last beaten in the league on September 15 by Richards Bay, a side that also inflicted their last loss in all competitions a 2-1 defeat in the Carling Knockout on October 22.

Aside from this strange Richards Bay ‘curse’, Swallows are doing very well, with Tshegofatso Mabasa in such fine form up front that there is talk of his parent club, Orlando Pirates, already wanting him back.

Chiefs trail Swallows by four points, and have played two games more. A dismal season so far has already seen Amakhosi lose six times in the league, and sack head coach Molefi Ntseki. Cavin Johnson has taken over but lost the Soweto derby before the international break and another defeat in this Soweto clash on Sunday is certainly on the cards.

Can Pirates build on derby success?

Jose Riveiro looks a little forlorn here, but his side did beat Kaizer Chiefs in the Soweto derby on November 11. Picture: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Orlando Pirates have failed to move forward from their excellent second half of the 2022/23 DStv Premiership season, slipping so far behind Mamelodi Sundowns this campaign that it is hard to see them mounting any sort of title challenge. The situation did, however, pick up a bit for Jose Riveiro’s men before the international break, with successive league wins including a 2-1 derby defeat of Kaizer Chiefs.

The Buccaneeers task now is to kick on, and at the very least, challenge for a runners-up spot and a place in next season’s Caf Champions League. Pirates have games in hand on most of the top six, so grabbing second place could come sooner, rather than later, if they can keep up their winning streak. Richards Bay did win an early relegation battle against Cape Town Spurs in their last league match, but are still languishing in 15th place in the table.

Can Middendorp start to turn Spurs’ fortunes around?

Ernst Middendorp faces perhaps his toughest test yet at Cape Town Spurs. Picture: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

Ernst Middendorp has been tasked with performing another relegation-avoiding miracle, this time at Cape Town Spurs, but this may be the German’s toughest task yet.

It was apparent from the start of the season that Spurs’ decision to stick mainly with those players that won them promotion had backfired horribly, as they lost their first eight games of the campaign.

Head coach Shaun Bartlett was ultimately the one who fell on his proverbial sword, but while Spurs have since brought in the experience of Surprise Ralani to boost their attack, and have scored a surprise win over Orlando Pirates, there is still little indication they can beat the drop.

If Middendorp can spark a remarkable turnaround in the Mother City, this could yet usurp his previous efforts of the 2015/16 campaign, where he could be said to have saved two sides from relegation – Free State Stars and Maritzburg United. Spurs may be able to reinforce in the January transfer window, but Middendorp realistically has to start winning matches before the turn of the year.

SuperSport face a Confederation Cup balancing act

Gavin Hunt will need to work wonders with a small squad over the next few months. Picture: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

It will be fascinating to see exactly what team SuperSport United head coach Gavin Hunt puts out on Sunday, when Matsatsantsa start their Caf Confederation Cup group stage campaign against Egypt’ s Modern Future in Cairo.

Hunt has already been talking about how stretched his squad is for a group campaign that will involve plenty of travel, with three sides from North Africa pitted against Matsatsantsa.

SuperSport also have the small matter of the Tshwane derby against Mamelodi Sundowns on Wednesday, and having picked up just one point from their last two DStv Premiership games, they could certainly do with getting one over their Pretoria rivals.

Hunt, therefore, has a conundrum, of deciding whether to field a seriously weakened team in Cairo, to save his players for Sundowns. The SuperSport coach could also think about this in terms of a long group stage campaign, where his side may well be able to make up the ground, even if they lose in Cairo.

Either way this is likely to provide a serious test of Hunt’s decorated coaching abilities. At least he should be able to sit on the bench in Egypt, having begun his Caf A License course during the international break.

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