Orlando Pirates vs Bidvest Wits | Saturday 17 May | Moses Mabhida | 15:00
Orlando Pirates will play their fourth cup final this season looking to finally get their hands on silverware after stumbling at the last hurdle in all previous occasions. The Nedbank Cup Final will be staged at the majestic Moses Mabhida Stadium, with Pirates playing high-flying Bidvest Wits, who are coming off an excellent season finishing third in the PSL. The winners will walk away with a cool R7 million in prize money.
To Win (90mins)
Orlando Pirates 14/10
Bidvest Wits 17/10
It has been a disappointing season for Pirates, who struggled to balance a tough CAF Champions League assignment with their domestic commitments, while also getting to know their new coach, who joined the Buccaneers in February. Vladimir Vermezovic has had somewhat of an up-and-down start to his tenure, with the Sea Robbers managing just one league win in their last five games, and Vermezovic just three wins after nine games in charge. The Buccaneers were forced to come back from behind against an already relegated Lamontville Golden Arrows side, beating them 3-1 at Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday afternoon to ensure a fourth place finish in the league. Bucs midfielders Sifiso Myeni, Mpho Makola and striker Kermit Erasmus were all on the scoresheet for Pirates.
Pirates will take part in their fourth cup final this season, hoping to end a taxing year on a high. They have lost in the CAF Champions League final, the Telkom Knockout final and the MTN8 final. From Orlando Pirates’ players wearing headphones on the bench, to missiles being thrown at former head coach Roger de Sa, to players getting in horrible car crashes, to having green lasers shone in their faces in Egypt, this team has literally seen it all this season. Fatigue has been cited by many as the reason for their poor domestic performances. This may be true as previous coach, Roger de Sa, had a preferred starting XI and was clearly not a fan of rotation, thus relying on a small group of players to perform on all fronts. This was probably due to the feeling that he was often one game away from the sack. Now, after playing over fifty matches this season, the players have seemingly gone through the motions.
The disappointing losses have also not helped build confidence within the team, a fact that defender, Happy Jele, alluded to in recent weeks in an interview. Pirates progressed through the first two rounds by overcoming NFD sides Thanda Royal Zulu (3-1 on penalties after a 3-3 draw) and Santos (2-0). In the quarter-finals they defeated 2008 Nedbank Cup champions and this season’s league champions Mamelodi Sundowns 2-1 away from home before edging Maritzburg United 2-1 at the Harry Gwala Stadium in the semi-finals.
Wits showed their cup credentials by beating the defending champions, Kaizer Chiefs, 4-2 on penalties at Bidvest Stadium two weeks back, booking their spot in the final of the country’s most lucrative cup competition. Moeneeb Josephs was the hero of the day. With the scores locked at 2-2 after extra-time, Josephs made two stunning stops on the trot to deny Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Siphiwe Tshabalala from the spot, allowing the Students to capitalise, succeeding in all four kicks and securing progress into the final. Sibusiso Vilakazi and Katlego Mphela cancelled each other out before half-time, both from the penalty spot, before Amos Ngcobo bagged the lead for Wits shortly after the break. But drama followed as George Maluleka equalised for a second time in the 54th minute, ensuring a tight finish which produced plenty of opportunities but led to nothing as the tie was sent into the nerve-wrecking shootout.
The Clever Boys progressed to the last four courtesy of wins over AmaBEE, AmaZulu and Bloemfontein Celtic in what was an overall impressive lead-up to the final. Coach Gavin Hunt won the trophy in 2012 with SuperSport United, before finishing runners-up last season, as Chiefs lifted the title en route to securing a league and cup double. Now at Wits, Hunt has continued his love-affair with the Nedbank Cup, hoping to cap a superb season with a trophy and Wits’ first since 2010 when the Johannesburg outfit lifted the Nedbank Cup under Roger De Sa. Captain Sibusiso Vilakazi has been the talisman for Wits. The midfielder’s performances have seen him nominated for Footballer of the Season, Players’ Player of the Season and Nedbank Cup Player of the Tournament awards.
VERDICT: Bidvest Wits 17/10
Wits finished just a place above Pirates in the league, but with ten points more. Pirates managed just five wins away from home in the league out of fifteen travels while Wits managed eight. Pirates have had the upper hand over Wits in the league this season, beating them 2-1 at Orlando Stadium and earning a point in a goalless draw at Bidvest Stadium at the end of last month. However, Wits are tipped to get the win when it counts most. Pirates were lucky to escape their semi-final clash against Maritzburg with a win and their strikers haven’t come to the party in recent matches.