SuperSport crowned PSL champs

19 May 2008

A drama-filled final day of the season ended with SuperSport United losing to Bloemfontein Celtic, but still claiming South Africa’s Premier Soccer League title ahead of Ajax Cape Town, who failed to get the win they needed over Lamontville Golden Arrows.

SuperSport, under coach Gavin Hunt, were odds-on favourites to annex the PSL title for the first time after they beat Golden Arrows 2-0 during the week, while Ajax drew 1-1 with their Cape Town rivals, Santos. Those results left “Matsatsantsa” three points clear of “the Urban Warriors”. It was not cut and dried, however, because Ajax went into their final game with a superior goal difference.

In Bloemfontein, Celtic and their supporters were determined to bring down the champions-elect and the fans of the green-and-white gave the match the feel of a knockout cup clash.

Setback for SuperSport

Celtic quickly put the pressure on SuperSport and their industry was rewarded after 20 minutes, albeit that it was a controversial decision by the referee. Moses Spandeel beat the offside trap and blasted a shot into the upright. The referee ruled it had crossed the goal line and “Phunya Sele Sele” were in the lead. Television replays suggested the decision was incorrect.

For SuperSport, going behind in such a controversial manner, in such an important match, must have caused some of the players to question whether fate would play a cruel part in the outcome of the PSL title race.

Celtic continued to press and just before the break Spandeel struck for the second time with a neat side-footed finish.

At halftime, SuperSport received a tongue-lashing from coach Hunt; he admitted as much after the game. It appeared to work as Matsatsantsa improved their performance after the break.

They were rewarded after an hour when Tefera Fikru headed home, but they couldn’t find another goal as Celtic went on to a 2-1 win.

Must-win contest

Meanwhile, in Durban, Ajax had no more success than SuperSport United at stamping their authority on a must-win contest against Golden Arrows.

They fell behind when Richard Henyekane blocked a clearance and then beat goalkeeper Hans Vonk in the Urban Warriors’ goal with only a few minutes left in the opening stanza.

After the short rest, Arrows began the second half strongly and grabbed a two-goal advantage when Kagiso Senemela drilled a volley past Vonk.

Fightback

Ajax seemed dead and buried, but they began their fightback when they were awarded a penalty after 73 minutes when Saameegh Doutie was brought down in the box. Bageta Dikilu slotted the opportunity and suddenly it was game on again.

With five minutes to go, the Cape Town side’s hopes of a fairytale ending were raised when Russell Mwafulirwa smashed a powerful shot past Brendan Wardle in the Arrows’ goal.

In the final minute, the Urban Warriors came agonisingly close to snatching victory when a free kick by Dikulu passed just over the crossbar.

The final whistle sounded on a 2-2 draw.

Arms raised in triumph

Back in Bloemfontein, the result of the Durban duel reached SuperSport’s coach Gavin Hunt before the completion of their game against Bloemfontein Celtic. Arms were raised in triumph on the sidelines as the Bloemfontein result became immaterial, but it had been a heart-stopping, narrow escape for the Pretoria-based club.

PSL CEO Kjetil Siem flew into Bloemfontein by helicopter to present SuperSport with the PSL trophy after waiting midway between Durban and the Free State capital to see which team was going to top the league.

After twice finishing second in the PSL – in 2001/02 and 2002/03 – SuperSport finally captured the title for the first time. They had, since those successive runner-up finishes, finished consistently high in the league standings, without ever truly challenging for the title.

Matsatsantsa’s win proved to be a financial windfall for the team and its players. SuperSport picked up the R10-million prize for topping the PSL; also, before the final match, the club had said it would give the players and technical staff half that amount to share among themselves should they win the title.

Relegation

At the opposite end of the table, Jomo Cosmos were relegated while Black Leopards, who finished second from bottom, will contest the playoffs to try to ensure their PSL survival.

Mamelodi Sundowns, the defending champions, suffered a 4-0 hiding on Sunday to end the season in fourth place, which was the best finish among “the big three”, all of whom underperformed; Kaizer Chiefs ended the season in sixth place and Orlando Pirates secured eighth place after pasting Amazulu 4-1.

With their one-two finish, both SuperSport United and Ajax Cape Town qualified for the 2009 African Champions League.

Third placed Santos earned a spot in the African Confederation Cup. Either Mamelodi Sundowns or Mpumalanga Black Aces will join “The People’s Team” in the competition, depending on which club wins the Nedbank Cup on 24 May.

PSL Standings

(Played, won, lost, drawn, for, against, goal difference, points)

  1. SuperSport United 30 16 6 8 40 26 14 54
  2. Ajax Cape Town 30 14 10 6 44 27 17 52
  3. Santos 30 12 13 5 36 29 7 49
  4. Mamelodi Sundowns 30 13 8 9 40 35 5 47
  5. Free State Stars 30 12 9 9 43 40 3 45
  6. Kaizer Chiefs 30 10 13 7 32 20 12 43
  7. Moroka Swallows 30 12 7 11 41 41 0 43
  8. Orlando Pirates 30 12 6 12 38 30 8 42
  9. Golden Arrows 30 10 11 9 34 32 2 41
  10. Platinum Stars 30 10 10 10 28 32 -4 40
  11. Bloemfontein Celtic 30 11 6 13 30 35 -5 39
  12. BidVest Wits 30 10 8 12 28 35 -7 38
  13. AmaZulu 30 9 7 14 27 36 -9 34
  14. Thanda Royal Zulu 30 8 7 15 31 44 -13 31
  15. Black Leopards 30 8 5 17 27 42 -15 29
  16. Jomo Cosmos 30 2 16 12 13 28 -15 22

 

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