The National First Division kicks off on Friday the 18th of August 2017.
The National First Division is back by popular demand with all 16 teams kicking off the competition to qualify for the Premier Soccer League next season.
Thanda Royal Zulu qualified convincingly last season and neither of the two teams that finished second and third – Black Leopards and Stellenbosch FC – managed to oust Baroka from the PSL. Will they go all the way this season? They must make a statement now. Here’s a forecast of how round one might pan out.
Saturday 19 August
Highlands Park 9/10 | Draw 22/10 | Jomo Cosmos 28/10
This is an encounter between two sides who have competed in the PSL in recent seasons with Highlands Park getting relegated in the previous campaign after spending only one season in the elite league. They still have a bulk of the players who have PSL experience like Tapuwa Kapini, Franklin Cale, Rudi Isaacs and Edwin Sitayitayi.
Last season, Jomo Cosmos didn’t show any signs of being ready to fight for promotion as they finished 10th on the log. They have tried to prepare for the new season by involving themselves in friendlies with the most prominent one being the Nkandla Mayoral Cup, which they lost 1-0 to AmaZulu. Taking the preseason into account, Cosmos are likely to edge the win.
Mbombela United 14/10 | Draw 2/1 | Black Leopards 18/10
Mbombela United finished last season only six points adrift of the play-off spots and they will be looking to start off well to stand a chance of gaining promotion. This is their third season in the NFD and they are always showing signs of improvement.
On the other hand, Black Leopards failed to outdo Baroka FC in the promotional play-off and they return to the NFD with one thing in mind, fighting to win the league and gaining promotion convincingly. Good news for their fans is that they still have the sought-after Bafana Bafana playmaker, Siphelele Ntshangase. I’m predicting a victory for Leopards.
University of Pretoria 15/10 | Draw 2/1 | Mthatha Bucks 17/10
Shaun Bartlett’s charges, University of Pretoria finished the last season in 12th place and to be honest it will take a mighty miracle for them to gain promotion considering the stiff competition from the expected contenders, so these are the type of games he has to win to stand any chance of scraping to a play-off spot.
The fact that Mthatha Bucks finished six points below a play-off spot should embolden them to get off to a good start to really challenge for it this time around. Amatholamnyama have signed left-back Pentjie Zulu from Chippa United who brings with him loads of PSL experience. I foresee this one ending in a draw.
Witbank Spurs 8/10 | Draw 22/10 | Super Eagles 3/1
The hosts, Spurs will not know what to expect from new kids on the NFD block and underestimating them could dramatically backfire. The fact that Spurs finished 7th on the standings last season shows that they have a team capable of fashioning a PSL qualification challenge and they will go into this one hoping to give the rookies baptism of fire.
Super Eagles are the only Free State side in the second tier of South African football after winning the promotional play offs from the third tear. This will be their opportunity to show the country what they have in store for the rest of the season away from home. A draw is a highly possible result.
Uthongathi FC 5/2 | Draw 21/10 | Royal Eagles 1/1
Another KZN derby is on the menu as newly-promoted Uthongathi FC will play their very first NFD game against their crosstown rivals. The Cane Cutters showed glimpses of being dangerous in the KZN Premier’s Cup, beating AmaZulu 1-0 in the quarterfinals and losing only 2-0 to Golden Arrows, using their second-string squad.
Royal Eagles finished last season only one point below play-off spots and they have decided to maximise their chances by hiring coach Allan Freese who has helped Highlands Park secure promotion convincingly. Eagles won the KZN Premier’s Cup, beating Golden Arrows in the final to defend their trophy. I’m backing Eagles to win and both teams to find the back of the net.
Sunday 20 August
Tshakhuma TM 11/10 | Draw 21/10 | Cape Town All Stars 23/10
Milano United have been sold to a Limpopo consortium and they will now be known as Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhadila FC. Last season they managed to escape relegation to the ABC Motsepe League by a whisker and this will be a very stern test against another bottom of the table side. Tshakhuma will be hoping to put they newly gained financial muscle to good use.
Cape Town All Stars will be the favourites going into this clash, having finished five spots above their opponents, they will fancy their chances of claiming maximum points. Last season, All Stars manged to collect four points from Milano, scoring five goals in the process. I’m expecting All Stars to triumph.
Richards Bay 1/1 | Draw 22/10 | Real Kings 24/10
When Thanda Royal Zulu’s status was sold to AmaZulu, the Richards Bay locals were sad about losing their team but now they have a new club called Richards Bay FC, which decided to keep a bulk of Thanda players and its technical staff. Roger Sikhakhane is known for helping teams like Chippa United and Thanda gain PSL promotion and he will be hoping to kick the new project off with a bang.
Going into the derby, Real Kings must be emboldened by the fact that they manged to beat their opponents 3-1 on penalties in the KZN Premier’s Cup during pre-season in a quarterfinal that ended 0-0. Kings are known for defending resolutely but they lack firepower upfront. The draw is on the cards.
Monday 21 August
Ubuntu Cape Town FC 17/10 | Draw 2/1 | Stellenbosch FC 15/10
Ubuntu Cape Town will be performing in the NFD for the very first time under the new name as they were known as just Cape Town FC before Ubuntu Football Trust gave them a financial injection. They have just signed highly rated Zimbabwean attacking midfielder, Bukhosi Sibanda who has scored 10 goals in 16 games for his former club, Bantu Rovers in the Zimbabwean Premier League.
Stellenbosch finished third on the log last season and missed out on PSL promotion after finishing bottom of the three-team promotion/relegation play offs table, consisting of Baroka FC and Black Leopards. Their rock-solid defender, Junaid Sait has been snatched by Ajax Cape Town and their former coach, Sammy Troughton has been captured by Free State Stars. Stellenbosch might be light for cover now but I think they have enough to overcome their fellow Western Cape opponents.