Cape Town - Ajax Cape Town’s path into the Telkom Knockout semifinals is blocked by their old nemesis, Golden Arrows, whom they host at the Newlands Stadium on Sunday afternoon (3pm kick off).
Ajax laboured to a 1-0 win over Moroka Swallows, thanks to a 115th minute winning goal from Granwald Scott, while Arrows shocked Platinum Stars as they scored two goals (Tshepo Mashego and an own goal) in the final six minutes to seal a 2-1 first round win.
The Cape Town side have already met their Durban counterparts three times this season.
The two league encounters ended in 0-0 and 1-1 draws, while the MTN8 final saw Abafana Bes’thende humiliating the Urban Warriors in a 6-0 victory at the Orlando Stadium.
Arrows, however, have never come close to hitting the heights they did that night, and stumbled to a 12th placed finish in the league.
Ajax were not all that much better in their own league campaign, never ever achieving any great form as they settled for a seventh placed finish, a disappointment for a team that has often been amongst the top three in recent seasons.
Goal-scoring was a big issue, with the Cape side only able to score two goals in a match on five occasions, not ever managing to net more than that in any single game.
Current form would therefore suggest that this is going to be a very close game – a score-line such as 4-3 would be a nice surprise; a single goal or even penalties appear the more logical outcome.
The Urban Warriors again go into this game with several players’ missing. Lance Davids and Thulani Serero are away on Bafana Bafana duty; Derek Decamps, Thulani Hlatshwayo and Brett Evans are injured, while Aidan Jenniker sits the game out as his father recently passed away, while he is also suspended.
Ajax, the defending Telkom Knockout champions, will not be under undue pressure to retain their title, that is if the players can follow coach Foppe de Haan’s lead.
”No I don’t feel any pressure (to defend the title) Maybe when I was 30 I would have been different, I would work myself into a frenzy, but these days I am much calmer,” said de Haan.
To his credit de Haan seems to enjoy the trust and support of his players.
But while Ajax continue to play neat football and keep a tight ship at the back, there appears to be no end to their goal-scoring drought amongst the strikers.
”We work every day on our final pass and our finishing, we talk about it all the time, but still we cannot rectify this issue,” says the Dutch-born coach who has worked with the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Klaas Jan Huntelaar.
Granwald Scott, though not an out-and-out striker, scored against Swallows after returning to fitness and could be a source of goals, although his input could be limited if he is forced to remain out wide on the left wing.
“Scott brings a lot of energy to the team and its great to have him fit again. We have asked him to play a left midfield role as that position is vacant, but he will be allowed freedom to drift around and exert his influence on the game,” said de Haan.
Arrows coach Manqoba Mngqithi will be hoping his side can build on the momentum they created towards the end of the victory over Platinum Stars last week.
With the likes of Richard Henyekane, Siyabonga Sangweni and Thanduyise Khuboni on national team camp, Mngqithi is forced into doing what he does best – giving game time and responsibility to unproven and untested, but exciting up-and-coming talents.
”I believe we can turn our loss into a positive. These fringe players are hungry to show what they are capable of and we are able to give them the chance to play without the pressure of results (like in the league).
”We also have enough experienced players in the side to look to – perhaps not players making up the spine of the team, but nevertheless players with good experience.”
How does Mngqithi feel to be playing against Ajax for the fourth time this season?
”It would be a mistake to look at the stats of our previous games against Ajax and I believe they would be naïve to do the same as cup games are always completely different affairs,” he says.
Arrows will go into battle with the same set of players that overcame Stars in the previous round.