Nedbank Cup: Bloemfontein Celtic's Maduka plots Mamelodi Sundowns downfall

John Maduka, coach of Bloemfontein Celtic, August 2020
The Free State side goes into Saturday’s showdown unbeaten in the bubble as they bid for their first major trophy since 2012

Bloemfontein Celtic coach John Maduka says being in the Nedbank Cup final is motivation in itself as they prepare to face Mamelodi Sundowns in Saturday’s decider at Orlando Stadium.

After securing a top-eight finish in the Premier Soccer League campaign, Celtic are looking to wrap-up their season by bagging the premier knockout competition in the PSL.

Playing a fired-up Sundowns side fresh from winning a third straight PSL title, Maduka says they need no other motivation than being in the final itself.

“It is a motivation on its own to be in the final. We don’t want to put ourselves under pressure,” Maduka told the media.

“There is excitement, but we don’t want the players to be too excited. There are so many things you want to do in that case and you end up not doing the right things. We try not to put pressure on the players, they must not have fear. You don’t want them [the players] to play the game [in their heads] before Saturday, and just focus on the preparations.”

Celtic would be bidding for their first major piece of silverware since lifting the Telkom Knockout in 2012.

Interestingly, Celtic beat Sundowns in that Telkom Knockout final, a result which cost the job of then Downs coach Johan Neeskens who was replaced by Pitso Mosimane.

“It is a different game on a different day. In 2012 it was Telkom Knockout and this is now the Nedbank Cup,” said Maduka.

“We are very hungry to win, for ourselves and for the supporters. It is a different ball game, they have beaten us [three times this season] before. We are aware of how they beat us, going into this one is different, we must just play according to our plan and try to win, just like we do in any other game. In football, you plan to win, but you sometimes get a different result. That is part of the game.”

Celtic would be buoyed by an unbeaten run of eight games in the bio-bubble including beating Baroka FC in the Nedbank Cup semi-final. Highlands Park are the only other team that completed life in the bubble without tasting defeat.

“Before we came into the bubble, we knew we had a semi-final game to play [against Baroka FC] and our plan was to play nine games – seven in the league and two in the cup,” Maduka said.

“Mentally we prepared our players that we will be the first to come in, but also might be the last to go out. We did prepare them for that before we came. What we have done is to make sure we take one game at a time, the boys have been working very hard, we have never taken it easy.

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“Mentally we have been strong. It has been difficult but we have tried our best to make sure we are strong. We always try our best as a team to make sure we are balanced. Going forward is one of our strengths.

"The games we have played since we have been in the bio-bubble have proven that. We have scored 13 goals in eight games. Defensively, we used to struggle, but it has also improved tremendously. We have not conceded now as we did in the past.”

Even if Celtic lose to Sundowns, they will proceed to participate in next season’s Caf Confederation Cup.