Johannesburg - After withstanding the heavy storms and turbulence of qualifying for the promotion playoffs, the real pressure is at the business end of the Absa Premiership season.
The three qualified clubs stand to achieve career-changing results, but not knowing the identity of their opponents for the playoffs has hampered the preparations of two National First Division qualifiers: Black Leopards and Jomo Cosmos.
Only on Saturday did the two teams find out who they would come up against after the conclusion of the Absa Premiership campaign.
Both had been there before, but were unsuccessful. This time, they want to go a step further and return to the elite division.
Finishing second behind champions Highlands Park meant Leopards would play their first game on Wednesday, against the 15th-placed side from the elite league - Ajax Cape Town.
While Leopards will on Sunday increase their preparations for the promotion playoffs, Cosmos players will be back at training on Monday after getting a week off. They will play their first game next Sunday.
Leopards coach Joel Masutha said they would not change anything going into the matches.
“This week was a difficult one because we were in the dark as to who we will play against. We will only step up our preparations from today (Sunday), when we know what kind of opposition we will come up against,” said Masutha.
“We have always followed the same routine for all our games and we will not do anything different just because we are in the playoffs. We made that mistake previously by overloading our players and that worked against us.”
Leopards have twice failed to clear the playoffs hurdle and Masutha said that had to come to an end.
Cosmos coach Jomo Sono said his players would start preparing for the playoffs on Monday after having had a week’s break.
“It’s difficult to prepare without knowing who you are going to play. I told them to take off and return on Monday,” he said.
He was still unable to believe that his side made it to the playoffs as Sono believed there were forces working against him.
Cosmos qualified for the playoffs with a game to spare. Sono said it was mission impossible for his side after losing three key players midway through the season.
“To be honest with you, I don’t knowing how we made it. At one stage, I thought it was all gone, but we managed to pull ourselves back and made it against all odds.”
Losing players Linda Mntambo, Frederic Nsabiyumva and Mxolisi Macuphu to Chippa United at a time when the team were in second and just a couple of points behind the eventual champions destabilised his side.
“Unfortunately, (Chippa United chair) Siviwe Mpengesi got wind, via agents, that their contracts were coming to an end. These were my best players and they used that technicality to attract them. There was little I could do but sell them and make money. It made more business sense for me than to lose them for free at the end of the season.
“I don’t know what the motive was, but maybe Mpengesi wanted to strengthen the team at my expense, which he did. Maybe if I was him I would have let them finish the season with Jomo and get them at the end of the season. Unfortunately, we are not the same.”
He conceded the team took a serious knock after losing the three.
“Fortunately, we were able to recover before it was too late by making sure we didn’t lose at home. We managed to get points on the road, which made things easier for us,” he said.