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Sundowns in desperate need of trophy to turn season around, as critics circle around Johan Neeskens

Mamelodi Sundowns and Bloemfontein Celtic meet in the final of the 2012 Telkom Knockout at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Saturday night.

Both sides would love to end a barren run without trophy success, with big-spending Sundowns gone four years without adding to their silverware haul, one of the longest in their history.

It is fair to say that the club’s run in the Telkom Knockout has kept coach Johan Neeskens in a job, and he would dearly love to prove his critics, of which there have been many of late, wrong.

Assistant coach Alex Bapela launched an impassioned defence of Neeskens on Thursday, suggesting he had been harshly dealt with by the South African media.

“In football there is always pressure and pressure has to be your middle name. Him being under pressure, means it pushes Sundowns to go the extra mile to work very hard,” Bapela says, before adding that he could understand supporter frustration.

“A big team like Sundowns always owes the supporters. Whether it’s a friendly or any other game they are involved in, the supporters come to the stadium wanting to see Sundowns play good football.

“Yes, we owe the supporters, we owe them big time and we want to make them happy. If we see them happy, that will make us happy. The reason we play is to win and that’s what we want to do on Saturday.”  

Bapela also quashed suggestions that his side were the favourites for the title, saying Celtic had the firepower to win.

“They’ve got very good players, they’ve got athletes and they got players that can run for the entire 90 minutes,” Bapela says. “So playing against them you have to make sure that you do not make a mistake at any time, the first minute or the 90th minute.”

Celtic assistant coach Boebie Solomons disagrees with Bapela on who is the favourite, but says they have no problem with being tagged as ‘underdogs’.

“I like the tag underdog because it means that you got nothing to lose. There’s less pressure on the players. Pressure is an important thing today. In the past players would easily handle it, but today the players can’t handle pressure in the same way,” Solomons says.

“I think it’s very nice for us to be underdogs, it makes us more determined. Coming up against a team like Sundowns is a nice challenge and I’m quite happy to have that tag with us.

“We’re looking forward to playing against a team like Sundowns who we feel is one of the best in Africa and have one of the best squads and resources in Africa. The players are very eager to get out on the field.”

Celtic have shown a great improvement in recent years under coach Clinton Larsen and Solomons says the club is excited about the future.

“It’s been very exciting at our club. We have a lot of intentions for the club, we are building and trying to establish a club in the same mould like Sundowns, like Pirates and like Chiefs,” the assistant says.

“We are building a team and we are building a squad for the future. We are very happy to be in a cup final now and it is just on the way to where we want to be. It’s not really the end for us, so we are happy that things are happening for us sooner than what we thought.”

DID YOU KNOW
  • Teams from the Free State and Tshwane are clashing in the Telkom Knockout final for the first time in 13 years. The last meeting between sides from these provinces was in 1999 when Sundowns defeated Free State Stars 2-0 in the final.
  • Sundowns will be looking to create history by trying to win the final without conceding a goal. They have gone through the earlier rounds of the tournament by scoring four goals and letting in none.

  • Celtic have not kept a clean sheet in the 2012 Telkom Knockout. Their previous three games have produced a total of 14 goals at a rate of 4.67 goals per game, with them scoring eight at a rate of 2.67 goals and conceding six at two per game.
  • Sundowns will favour a positive result from this game as they are undefeated in their last 15 games in all competitions against Celtic (two Cup games and 13 league games), winning 10 of these matches. This includes the most recent clash, a 1-0 league win this past Sunday.

  • This is the tenth cup tie between these sides. Sundowns have dominated, from their previous nine cup meetings Sundowns have won seven and Celtic just two.

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