If the Telkom Charity and MTN 8 matches are anything to go by, the Absa Premiership will be a very close and hard fought battle this season.
Both tournaments have shown that there is no clear advantage among the country's top teams and although some might say it was inevitable that Chiefs would face Sundowns in the final, anyone who watched the two semi-final second leg matches, will know how close it was to being a Swallows v SuperSport final.
Swallows really gave Chiefs a torrid time in the second leg, but their 1-0 win wasn't enough to get them through. The Swallows defence did their work on Torrealba, and eventually the Venezuelan lost his cool and got a red card - he will have to get used to the treatment for the entire season. I think Chiefs might lack depth up front, but if they can keep Torrealba fit and on the pitch, he will score a lot of goals for them.
The Sundowns v SuperSport second leg match was one of the best matches I have watched in any tournament. It had everything. If you missed it - here's a summary: Sundowns went into the match with a 2-1 advantage from the first leg; SuperSport scored late in the second half and now had the away goal advantage to go through. Sundowns scored a late equaliser and were on their way to the final; SuperSport got an injury time penalty to level the scores over-all; Extra-time; SuperSport scored a third goal and Sundowns then had a man sent off! Clear advantage SuperSport... then they had a man sent off! And late in extra-time, Lerato Chabangu showed great skill to rifle an unstoppable shot from the edge of the area and send Sundowns into the final on the away goals rule.
This summary doesn't do justice to what was an end-to-end match with great pace, great skill on a hard pitch and five great goals!
Sundowns and Pirates have the biggest and arguably best squads in the league, although neither team has gelled yet. Chiefs and SuperSport will be hard to beat; Swallows will improve; Celtic are always hard to beat at home; AmaZulu have strengthened the squad; Ajax and Santos have improved in recent years and the rest of the teams are all tough at home. Even Bay United will be hard to beat in PE - although I think the newly promoted teams will find the going tough.
I have been a massive critic of the quality displayed in the majority of games in our local league, but there is no doubt that the league is very competitive. One thing to take into consideration is that most of our fields are hard and a little bumpy in places, and if you play the game at 100 miles an hour, the field becomes a variable. In the UK (we often measure up against the Premiership), the fields are soft and manicured. Players can afford to take their eyes off the ball for a split second to look up, but in SA if you take your eyes off the ball it could hit a bump and bounce over your foot - I'm not making excuses for some of the poor crosses, passes and wayward shots on goal, but it is a factor that is evident when you watch our local matches.
The Olympics are over, and now we sit right in the spotlight with the world watching us. Bafana's good performance against Australia recently went a long way to showing that we can be competitive and possibly surprise the critics in 2010. An exciting domestic season with great performances and lots of goals will be another step towards a competitive national team, and towards motivating the average South African supporter. With the Springboks imploding and the Proteas' woeful limited overs results, Bafana are actually our best performing national sports team at the moment! Long may it continue!
George is Media24's Mr Soccer.
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