I touch back down in Cape Town feeling odd. The International break has been awful but now I’ve got to turn my attention back to Santos and our upcoming SA KO Cup Semi Final against an unknown opponent. It’s a strange little cup competition as we only started at the end of October and our semi final’s less than a month later. I’ve always wanted a decent cup run and we’re suddenly only 1 win away from a domestic cup final.
The cup draw finally matches us against Chippa United at home, which won’t be easy but is certainly winnable if we play like we did against Supersport. We’ll be without Yanga Baliso for over a week with a bruised head though and Gugu Gogotya might well be out until the winter break with a hernia that’ll sideline him for at least a month.
The day before our Semi Final, I watch Kaizer Chiefs record a dramatic 4-3 win away at Cape Town City in the other Semi, which means whoever wins out of us and Chippa are in for a tough final.
King Carl’s out of the starting lineup today as he continues his goal drought and Hicham Aidir, back from International duty, replaces him as our lone striker. Youngsters Ernie and Fanteni will make rare bench appearances.
Santos FC get off to a flyer when Soumahoro wins the ball in midfield 7 minutes in and passes to Aidir on the edge of the box, who drills it low towards goal. The keeper stretches out a glove but can’t stop the ball from finding the net.
We dominate the first half hour, spurred on by our early goal, and on the 30 minute mark Masango receives the ball from Japhta and dribbles to the left byline. He crosses to the near post and Jöel arrives to glance the ball into the net and double our lead.
As if my smile couldn’t be any wider at half time, when we start a counter attack through Masango after a semi-threatening Chippa push, their captain Ace Sali trips our inside forward and earns himself a second yellow and a red. Feel free to smoke me that kipper now Ace, I’ll be back for breakfast.
I get to hand out one of my jollier half time team talks as we’ve been brilliant so far. I do replace Mike Kakuba though because as one of our only full Internationals, he hasn’t had a break and is therefore knackered. Juno comes on at the back.
Within a minute of kickoff, Norde picks out Joël darting into the right hand side of the penalty area. The Ivorian receives the ball and is instantly clattered by Grant Mkaza. Penalty. It crosses my mind as Sello Japhta steps up to take his 2nd penalty in as many games that we might be cramming a year’s supply of luck into 2 matches, but fuck it, if that’s true we might as well enjoy the show. Japhta steps up and places the ball firmly to the keeper’s right from 12 yards. 3-0.
Fanteni and King Carl come on over the next half hour for Sinbad and Aidir. I could give young Ernie a run out but if there’s one thing that’d put the cherry on top of this match it’d be Carl Lark opening his account for the season and finding his form again.
With 7 minutes to go Sello Japhta crosses from the left, and as much as I try to hurl King Carl towards the ball with telekinesis, it bounces off centre back Bongani Kama and rolls into the net.
The final whistle blows and it takes me a minute to catch up. We’ve won a Semi Final, which means we’ll be playing a bloody cup Final! Plus that’s 8 goals scored and 0 conceded in our last 2 games. Am I dreaming? Nkili’s picked up a 1 match ban for accumulating 4 yellow cards, and you don’t generally get that kind of boring minor annoyance in dreams, so I suppose I’m awake.
A league visit to Sundowns is up next and I’m quite pessimistic about it. They’re a side that have beaten us 4 times in our last 5 meetings and they’ve just beaten Kaizer Chiefs too, which puts them on a par with a great white and anthrax on the list of shit I don’t want to come up against at the minute.
Sundowns play a narrow Christmas tree, so we’ll sit back with Project: Foxy Mk II and exploit the flanks when we counter, where we can hopefully outnumber their fullbacks. Tlou Molekwane comes in for the suspended Nkili and Zulu comes in for Japhta, who’s pretty knackered after the last match. So is Joël Soumahoro, so Ryan Moon come in on the right wing and Masango drops back into central midfield. Sohna’s also very tired, so Juno comes in alongside Kakuba at the back.
We come racing out for the first half when Hicham Aidir drives through the centre on the ball but shoots just wide. Less than a minute later he gets the ball again 25 yards out and holds it up before playing it through for Masango in the box. He unselfishly lays the ball off for Sony Norde on the left, who rolls it into the far corner to put us ahead inside 3 minutes.
Inside half an hour we double our advantage when the Haitian goalscorer dribbles down the left flank and chips a cross in for Aidir, who volleys into the roof of the net.
10 minutes from half time the hosts still haven’t had a sniff and we’re still dominating. We get the ball up the pitch with a great passing move before Aidir takes over and shoots from 20 yards, but his effort lacks power and is caught easily by the keeper.
Just before the break we concede a corner. Motupa crosses but the ball’s cleared and comes back to him. He crosses again, but again it’s cleared and given back. Motupa crosses once more and third time’s the charm. This one finds Maseko on the edge of the area, who half volleys it powerfully past Komo and into the net. The cross maestro nearly levels in first half injury time, but Motupa’s 20 yard free kick thumps against the bar and bounces away.
After the hour mark we go more defensive and I bring on Soumahoro for Moon, with Joël dropping into midfield and Masango taking the right wing. It seems to do the trick, but with 5 minutes to play in the match, another fucking Motupa corner comes into our box and Aidir is adjudged to push Anele, giving Sundowns a dubious penalty. Nxumalo tucks the ball home from 12 yards to rescue a point for the home side.
I can’t really be unhappy with that result. To be honest if you’d offered me a draw before kick off I’d have bitten your hand off. We did lose a 2 goal lead, but it was a lead I never expected us to be able to build in the first place. So yeah, all in all a decent point with subtle overtones of disappointment. We pick ourselves up and go again.