JOHANNESBURG, December 5 – It will be a fresh, and confident Baroka FC who take on Orlando Pirates in the 2018 Telkom Knockout (TKO) final at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday evening (6pm).
Pirates left the country in the early hours of Tuesday morning, setting off at 2am on a five-hour flight to Mahe in the Seychelles, and then making another 15 minute flight in a couple of light aircraft to the island of Praslin, for their Caf Champions League match with Lightstars on Wednesday afternoon.
They’ll only be back in South Africa on Thursday, leaving them with little more than a day to prepare for the final in Port Elizabeth.
For Baroka, it’s very much a case of the opposite; when they take to the pitch on Saturday evening, the Limpopo team will have enjoyed a two-week break since their last match.
And so while head coach Wedson Nyirenda’s main challenge will have been to maintain his players’ match sharpness during this period, the break would also have afforded anyone carrying slight injury niggles the chance to freshen up and to be ready to go out firing on all cylinders on Saturday.
Although Pirates are top of the standings and Bakgaga are third from bottom, above the relegation zone only on goal difference, the league table does not tell the full picture in that the Limpopo side have recently found a purple patch of form, winning four of their last five matches (league and cup).
Playing in their first-ever cup final, the 11-year-old team will no doubt be underdogs, a tag they are relishing. It’s certainly worked so far – not many would have expected them to beat 2017 TKO winners Bidvest Wits in the semifinals, or to have emerged victorious against defending current Premiership champions Sundowns in the quarters.
It would appear that Nyirenda, a former Kaizer Chiefs striker, who fancies himself as a cup specialist, has been able to rub his mentality off on his men.
“He said in every cup he goes to the final,” winger and probably Baroka’s biggest potential match-winner, Talent Chawapiwa told KickOff. “It was still pre-season so no one believed it. So before the [Wits] game he said, ‘Ja, I can see that you don’t believe me. If you don’t believe me it’s fine but I’m going to PE.’
“When we scored that goal we started believing in what the coach said; he means what he is saying.”
That mix – of confidence and belief, without the weight of expectation upon their shoulders, should make Baroka a very dangerous proposition for Bucs in PE.
The Soweto giants will know that the trophy is theirs to lose – for a club of their pedigree and resources, support base, and star-studded squad, they have to be counted as heavy favourites.
Historically, the League Cup has not been too kind to the Sea Robbers; since 2000 they’ve reached the final five times, but only won once (2011).
Factor in that their last silverware came four years ago, in the Nedbank Cup, and the pressure is on the Pirates players to appease their demanding fans.
Bakgaga are certainly looking primed and ready to pounce should they sense any nerves from their more illustrious opponents on Saturday. (ANA)