Chiefs, Pirates set for epic
Vladimir Vermezovic (Gallo Images)
Port Elizabeth - The Vodacom Challenge heads into the business end of the competition when South African giants Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates clash in an eliminator in Port Elizabeth on Thursday evening.
Besides the obvious benefits associated with pre-season matches, the previous two games in the tournament have meant very little in the greater scheme of things.
Chiefs, however, may disagree.
The Amakhosi will hope their 1-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the opening match will afford them a decided mental edge over their Soweto rivals, who drew 1-1 with the English Premier League outfit on Tuesday.
The incentive for victory in Thursday night's thriller is a berth in Saturday's final against Spurs in Johannesburg.
New Pirates coach Julio Leal believes his players are up for the challenge.
"I always tell my players: 'The next game is the most important game of our lives'," Leal said.
"We can't think about that (Saturday's game). We must take it step by step.
"So tomorrow is important because it is a stepping stone to the final."
Leal said Chiefs were playing better and better under coach Vladimir Vermezovic.
"We're expecting a competitive, beautiful and entertaining match," he said.
"We played them four times last season and beat them three times, but every season is different."
Vermezovic also expects a no-holds-barred encounter against the Premiership champions.
"I expect one big game tomorrow because there are no preparation games between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs," Vermezovic said on Wednesday.
"I think Pirates will approach tomorrow's game with big confidence after their performance last season.
"But we want to build on our winning mentality and stay on a high level.
"I watched the Pirates-Spurs game with my technical team. I think that Pirates were the better team and deserved to win the game.
"It's perhaps not fair that both of us have to fight for a place in the final."
There is not much that stirs the loins of South African soccer fans more than a clash between these arch-rivals and this week's match will be no different.
As of Wednesday morning, 25 000 tickets had been sold, just short of the 29 000 who watched the team play at the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in 2009.
Chiefs won on that occasion and also went on to beat Manchester City in the final.
Thursday's fixture will be the first soccer match played at the 45 000-seater stadium in Port Elizabeth since the FIFA World Cup third-placed play-off between Uruguay and Germany in July last year.