Who’ll get first bragging rights?
The gimmick that is the Carling Black Label Cup brings a thankful end to the pre-season this evening as Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates go head to head in the first Soweto derby of the new campaign (FNB Stadium, 7.30).
The tournament started last year in questionable circumstances – the dumping of a four-team charity competition (the Telkom Charity Cup) for a match that re-inforces the monopoly of the Amakhosi and the Buccaneers and can hardly warm the hearts of those who like the spreading of the wealth in the domestic game.
Then again, it’s easy to see the attraction of such a money-spinner to Chiefs, Pirates, and the Premier Soccer League. The voting system, where fans decide the starting elevens and make one substitution during play, might enrage the purist, but it has captivated the public, and as usual, the derby is set to be a sell-out at the FNB.
It can only be hoped that the two sides put on a better show for spectators than last year’s insipid match, when a goalless draw saw Pirates triumph via a penalty shoot out.
The victory did prove a good omen for Pirates, who went on to have a second straight treble-winning season, retaining the MTN8 and the Absa Premiership, as well as also picking up the Telkom Knockout title.
Pirates might have changed coaches mid-season, Augusto Palacios replacing Julio Leal, but they never lost that winning habit, and will look to the Carling Black Label Cup as another precursor to a season of glory.
Chiefs, meanwhile, went trophyless last season and have seen Vladimir Vermezovic shown the door, with former Bafana coach Stuart Baxter now entrusted to guide them back into the good times.
It would be harsh to judge either Baxter or Palacios on this evening’s game as neither had anything to do with team selection.
Then again, if Chiefs can win, Baxter will no doubt enjoy a psychological boost going into the season proper, especially on the back of last weekend’s victory in the Gauteng Cup.
Chiefs have signaled an intent to fight hard for silverware this season with a series of high profile signings, including Bafana defenders Morgan Gould, Siboniso Gaxa and Eric Matoho. Gould and Gaxa are both in the Chiefs starting line-up selected by the fans, but Matoho and new striking signing Kingston Nkatha missed out.
Lehlhonolo Majoro and Bernard Parker will lead the attack for Chiefs, and both have been in excellent form for the Amakhosi in pre-season. Siphiwe Tshabalala misses out through injury, with Abia Nale and George Lebese on the wings.
For Pirates, Mark Mayambela has proved that he is still a fan favourite by making it into the starting line-up, while Benni McCarthy will look to torment Chiefs just as he did in March’s Premiership Soweto Derby, where he scored twice.