Johannesburg - The country will stand divided on November 4 as the first Soweto derby of the 2017/18 season takes place.
According to the Premier Soccer League draft fixtures sent to clubs for ratification, the new Absa Premiership calendar will kick off on the weekend of August 18 and conclude on May 5.
Unlike last season, where there were major stoppages because of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the CAF Africa Cup of Nations and Mamelodi Sundowns’ prolonged stay in the CAF Champions League, no major delays are expected this season as CAF fixture dates have been reserved.
The only challenge will be if Sundowns and SuperSport advance to the semifinals of the MTN8 competition because those fixtures clash with CAF dates.
The league did not make any provision for the CAF African Nations Championship tournament, which will be played in Kenya early next year, should Bafana Bafana qualify.
According to the draft sent to clubs, it will be a baptism of fire for former Bafana Bafana striker and new Cape Town City coach Benni McCarthy, who will face league champions Bidvest Wits away from home.
This will be McCarthy’s maiden game as a coach following his appointment last month.
If anything, this opening fixture will test his credentials as he will want to start with a bang.
Gavin Hunt’s Students are striving to become the first club to retain the Premier League title since Orlando Pirates in the 2011/12 season, and will aim for a good start.
An intriguing first round of fixtures will also see two derbies. Polokwane City have been pitted against neighbours Baroka FC in their opening match, while Eric Tinkler will start his new coaching life at SuperSport United with a tricky fixture against Mamelodi Sundowns in Tshwane.
It does not get any better for Tinkler, who will have Kaizer Chiefs in his next game – a repeat of sorts (for the former Cape Town City coach) of a Chiefs versus City MTN8 clash last season.
Returnees AmaZulu will have an easy one against Free State Stars at home to gauge their readiness for the tough and demanding Premiership.
Usuthu last tasted top-flight football in the 2014/15 season, when they were relegated to the National First Division.
Just like they did back in 2006 when they bought Dynamos’ league status, they have come back via the back door again after buying Thanda Royal Zulu’s status.
But will they make their stay count this time and ensure it lasts beyond the first season?
Orlando Pirates will host Chippa United at Orlando Stadium, while Ajax Cape Town are also at home to Golden Arrows.
The two fixures on the opening Sunday will see Bloemfontein Celtic face Chiefs and Platinum Stars host Maritzburg United.
Chiefs’ first home match promises to be a cracker as they host United.
The highlights in September will be two coastal derbies.
KwaZulu-Natal will come to a standstill on September 17, when Arrows host AmaZulu, while Ajax Cape Town will have the honour of hosting the Cape Town derby in the last week of the month.
The first Soweto derby takes place at FNB Stadium on November 4 with Chiefs as hosts.
Free State will only witness its Bloemfontein Celtic and Stars derby in December.
As has become tradition, the season’s curtain-raiser, the MTN8 tournament, will kick off the campaign.