Sundowns have it all to do against Ndlovu & Co
If it was any other PSL season, the outcome of the on-form Mamelodi Sundowns' journey to Maritzburg United would be a mundane assignment for the punters.
But such has been the resilience of Fadlu Davids's team this season that even the ever-cocky Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane is forced to be cautious, labelling their trip for a double whammy of fixtures in the KZN Midlands "the trickiest of the season".
Mosimane is worried about Maritzburg turning out to be party poopers for his side as they look to win the league and the Nedbank Cup double.
Last season Maritzburg were among the three teams - Baroka FC and Highlands Park are the other two - who held the Brazilians to three successive 2-2 draws in the last three of their league matches.
The end results of those draws was Sundowns finishing second behind league winners Bidvest Wits, three points shy of defending their league title.
Maritzburg followed that up with another scalp against Sundowns, bundling them out of the MTN8 quarterfinals, with former Team of Choice striker Evans Rusike getting the winner at the Lucas Moripe Stadium.
Fast forward to the next four days, starting this afternoon when Sundowns will need to beat Maritzburg in the semifinal of the Nedbank Cup.
The same Brazilians need to steal three points from the Team of Choice on Wednesday night to erase any doubts of them winning the league title.
Both matches will be played at Harry Gwala Stadium, a venue Maritzburg have turned into a slaughterhouse, with Siphesihle Ndlovu, Lebohang Mekoa, Bandile Shandu, Deolin Mekoa and Andrea Fileccia among those leading the charge.
Of the 10 matches Maritzburg have played at Harry Gwala since November, six have been victories, four stalemates and one a loss.
Ndlovu in particular has been in scintillating form in recent weeks, capping it with a wonderful strike in a league game against Baroka FC in Polokwane last week.Of their challenges against Sundowns - a 15-match unbeaten team (in all competitions) that stands between them and their first cup final appearance and a possible third-place finish in the league - Ndlovu sounded positive of what they can achieve.
"I'm sure Sundowns know what they can expect, especially with us playing at the venue we've done so well at this season with our supporters," said Ndlovu, 22, who is eager to make history in his first full season in the top flight of South African football.
Winning the cup semi will bring Maritzburg closer to featuring in the CAF Confederation Cup next year, something Ndlovu would also cherish, having already had a taste of continental football in Zambia with Bafana Bafana last month.
Ndlovu's captain at Maritzburg, Bevan Fransman, said the unity and team ethics in their squad were what has carried them to the third place on the log and their second cup semifinal this season.
The former Kaizer Chiefs defender admitted that Sundowns were brimming with classy and quality players but, having managed to trip them in the MTN8 last eight, they fancied their chances.
"We're confident and we have the desire to go to the cup final," said Fransman.
Mosimane described Maritzburg as a very awkward team, saying it's always difficult to plan against Davids's way of playing.
"I give Fadlu Davids respect for playing the way he plays. I try to find a team that plays the way he does and I have never found one in the world," said Mosimane.
One of the other challenges Mosimane will have to overcome today is finding a suitable replacement for his suspended skipper, Hlompo Kekana. But with the array of stars to choose from, that task should be the easiest for the Sundowns coach today.