Thursday, 17 April 2014

Squeaky bottom time in South Africa, Britain and Spain: the vital fixtures that could shape the season this weekend

Repeat performance? Stuart Baxter last season
IT'S going down to the wire. A tired footballing cliche, I know, but not one they're throwing about in Germany and Scotland right now.

While the Bundesliga and Scottish Premier were settled weeks ago, Spanish, British and South African football followers are just hitting crunch time - with three sides in the running in La Liga, the Premier League and the PSL.

South Africa's battle between Mamelodi Sundowns and champions Kaizer Chiefs could yet prove to be the closest of all, with the title decided on goal difference, as it was in 2011 when Orlando Pirates pipped Ajax Cape Town to secure their first treble.

Last night, just before Gareth Bale's sensational winner for Real Madrid in the El Clasico Copa Del Ray final against wilting Barcelona, Mzanzi's top three all cleared significant hurdles to stay in the running for the 2014 South African crown.

At Loftus, Sundowns could only carve out a 1-0 win over Clive Barker's in-form Mpumalanga Black Aces thanks to an early goal from Mozambiquan star Elias Pelembe. Afterwards Pitso Mosimane, now realistically set to become the first black South African coach to win the PSL, was far from tears.

He grinned: "I know some people will accuse me off being too defensive, but this was not a night for a second goal. Three points is all that mattered. And we've got our three points."

At the Peter Mokabe Stadium, Polokwane City - not easily beaten up north - were eventually beaten 2-0 by George. Well two Georges. First Lebese added to the two late Nedbank Cup goals he scored over the weekend, then Maluleke produced the killer goal. Talking of killers: Katlego Mphela came on for Bernard Parker, but neither lived up to their reputations.

Worse, when Knowledge Musona came on as a sub late in the game, it looked like his dodgy ankle went with his first real thrust at goal. Stuart Baxter appeared afterwards to say: "We've got to be happy with three points, it's such a schedule like nowhere else.

"I'm trying to put out a competitive squad for CAF, that's why we rotated some of the players tonight. The PSL could go down to goal difference, but what can you do? If our competitors win 7-0 for the rest of the season, I'll be the first to congratulate them!"

And quietly, Bidvest Wits produced two late goals against Moroka Swallows to secure a last-gasp 2-1 win which leaves the Clever Boys in the Hunt. Gavin Hunt that is. With one game in hand on Chiefs and two on Sundowns, his men are realistically TWO POINTS adrift in the title race and they've got to play the AmaKhosi.

With Chiefs and Sundowns level on goal difference at +22, it's the remaining fixtures which now become the subject of some debate. And the major problem? Chiefs have those two CAF Confed Cup games against Asec Mimosa (at Dobsonville on Saturday and at the Stade Robert Champroux in Abidjan on April 27) to worry about.

And the AmaKhosi are also in to the last four of the Nedbank Cup, with Wits of all people to come on May 3.  Sundowns have neither CAF nor the Nedbank Cup to worry about after their quarter-final defeat against Orlando Pirates.

That means Masanadawana have THREE to play: Swallows away on Saturday; SuperSport United at home on April 26 and Maritzburg away on May 10.

Chiefs have FOUR to come: the big one against Wits on April 23, Amatuks away on April 26 (has to be re-scheduled because of CAF); relegation threatened Free State Stars on April 30 and Amazulu at home on the final day of the season, May 10.

Last season Chiefs won the League with 57 points. Orlando Pirates did it with 58 in 2012. Already Sundowns have 55 points. They might need 64 to confirm it. And that would be a new PSL record.


2002-2003: Orlando Pirates 61, Supersport United 55

2003-2004: Kaizer Chiefs 63 (highest), Ajax Cape Town 57

2004-2005: Kaizer Chiefs 62, Orlando Pirates 60

2005-2006: Mamelodi Sundowns 57, Orlando Pirates 54

2006-2007: Mamelodi Sundowns 61, Silver Stars 51

2007-2008: SuperSport United 54 (lowest), Ajax Cape Town 52

2008-2009: SuperSport United 55, Orlando Pirates 55

2009-2010: SuperSport United 57, Mamelodi Sundowns 56

2010-2011: Orlando Pirates 60, Ajax Cape Town 60

2011-2012: Orlando Pirates 58, Moroka Swallows 56

2012-2013: Kaizer Chiefs 57, Platinum Stars 56

Vital games in La Liga this weekend:



SUNDAY: Villarreal v BARCELONA, 9pm CAT

After last night's Copa Del Ray win, Real Madrid and Barcelona have to maintain the pace at Diego Simeone's shock troops Atleti remain a win clear in the title race. All three are expected to win this weekend, but that's what they said before Granada 1-0 Barcelona last week!

Vital games in Premier League this weekend:

SATURDAY: CHELSEA v Sunderland 6.30pm CAT



Man City were held 2-2 by Sunderland last night, and they were lucky to bet a point at home with Samir Nasri's late equaliser vital. It's a result that further strengthens Liverpool's grip on their first EVER Premier League crown. Assuming the top three all win this weekend, it's Chelsea at Liverpool next week which will be crucial.

Vital games in PSL this weekend:

SATURDAY: SuperSport United v WITS 3pm CAT


With champions Kaizer Chiefs on CAF Confed Cup duty, Sundowns have the chance to move SIX points ahead at the top of the PSL - and improve their goal difference against the low-flying SwaiSwai. Victory for Wits would put them within TWO POINTS of Chiefs. Definitely still in the HUNT.

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