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THE SHOW GOES ON!

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My dearest readers ...


If you looked at yesterday’s Ingwenyama Cup quarter-final draw at a cursory glance and didn’t know what some of us know about local football tournaments draws, you would be forgiven for thinking the ‘football gods must be crazy’. But as they say, if you know, you know.


Once again, for the second draw running, we have another derby – this time pitting the security forces sides against each other. It’s Green Mamba versus defending champions, Young Buffaloes. Predictably, the rest of the remaining big teams, Mbabane Highlanders, Manzini Wanderers and Moneni Pirates were separated and they will now face the three other National First Division sides. All this just a mere coincidence? Go and tell the mountains!


Be that as it might be, we have another Ingwenyama Cup football fiesta this weekend which promises to give us goose-bumps, adrenalin rush and palpable joy to last us a lifetime. Knockout tournaments, by their very nature, are unpredictable affairs and this tournament, the richest in the land, has given us more of the romantic biblical storyline of the little Davids slaying the lardy Goliaths second to none in its five-year chequered history.


Never mind that before Young Buffaloes bullied Mbabane Highlanders in a 4-1 thrashing in last year’s Cup final on the unforgettable Sunday afternoon of March 17, Mbabane Swallows had won the tournament three times in a row in a show of brutal brilliance and complete dominance that inevitably makes the Swallows of Mbabane the ‘TEAM OF THE DECADE’ having won a boutique of 15 trophies in 10 years.


Good gracious me, this tournament, with a mouth-watering E1.4 million first prize cheque, will see Mbabane Highlanders, who clipped the ‘Birds’ wings on Sunday, take on Madlenya FC while unpredictable Manzini Wanderers, who celebrated the derby penalty win over Sundowns so wildly you would have thought they had won the tournament itself at Mavuso Sports Centre on Saturday, will face Tambankulu Callies. Then the Moneni Buccaneers will take on Seven Dreams; another fixture that will certainly be a joy to watch.


Mystery


Let’s unravel this mystery of the quarter-final draw. All things considered, the security forces derby is the ‘pick of the draw’ and the two sides, Green Mamba, the reigning MTN League kings against the defending champions of the Ingwenyama Cup. This clash, on any day, is certainly a thriller rolled into one. A cursory glance on the MTN log standings, however, tells you, the army side is streets ahead of the ‘Correctional Services side’ – a whopping 15 points.

Never mind that when they met in the league first round on November 30 at King Sobhuza II Memorial Stadium, it was a late Green Mamba’s orthodox midfielder Mxolisi Mkhontfo’s 86th minute goal which decided the encounter. But history also tells us, the last time the two sides met in this tournament at the same stage (quarter-finals) in the third edition, on the fateful day of January 14, 2018 (lest we forget), Sandile ‘Saviola’ Gamedze’s extra time goal (92nd minute) ensured ‘Amathole Ezinyathi’ sailed to semis. Green Mamba’s Musa Dlamini had given Caleb Ngwenya’s charges the lead in the 73rd minute before Wandile Maseko equalised seven minutes later to take the game to extra-time where ‘Saviola’ pulled the trigger with the precision of a surgeon.
history


But in this game of football, christened the ‘beautiful game’ by its favourite son, Pele, there are no guarantees and history counts for nothing, especially in a knockout of this nature. If anything, the ‘Correctional Services’ side having won the last meeting – the November 30, 2019 league clash 1-0 – will feel motivated to bite the frightening army side who seem to instil the fear of God in their opponents even before the first ball is kicked in anger. The Caleb Ngwenya-led outfit currently hold the ‘honour’ of being the only local side to beat Buffaloes this season. So, anything is possible in this clash even though one gets the feeling that should the army side prevail, there would be no stopping them going all the way to the final and probably winning the tournament for the second successive time. They are irrepressible, brutally brilliant and drown their opponents in a sea of possession capped with glut of goals.


Mbabane Highlanders face unpredictable Madlenya FC knowing they would have to improve in all areas. Their win, well celebrated for crying out loud, over Swallows, was not without controversy as two Swallows penalties were shockingly ignored by referee Mbongeni Shongwe.

I understand a hand-ball situation inside the box (as we are often told about distance, ball-to-the-hand, hands in natural or unnatural position and all those gibberish) like the one in the second half but the blatant foul on Wonder ‘Samba Jive’ Nhleko in the 23rd minute by Jimoh Moses inside the box was an obvious penalty.

I think I overheard Stevie Wonder tell Babsy Mlangeni he would have given it 10 times out of 10 on any given day. But maybe the match officials still had the Highlanders’ disallowed Josef Lekata goal in the league the other week in mind. Maybe. But whatever the case might be, it is unpardonable that such horrendous refereeing still subsists in this day and age.
habits


Old habits die hard. I will address this one later. Manzini Wanderers have been handed a fair draw but they are facing the MTN National First Division log leaders and cannot be taken lightly. The Buccaneers of Moneni should learn not to clock off on the job in the second half as they did against Mhlume Peacemakers after such a perfect start – buccaneering to a comfortable 2-0 lead. Coach Gcina ‘Magiyane’ Dlamini would have noticed that his team had a good opening but then took the foot off the pedal. In this tournament, it can come back to bite you as it nearly did on Saturday at Mavuso Sports Centre.


Given the ‘lucky of the draw’ we had yesterday, it looks, highly likely, the remaining crowd pulling teams, Highlanders, Wanderers and Pirates will all make it to the last FOUR. Buckle Up, the game is on!a

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