Neeskens remains resolute
Mamelodi Sundowns coach Johan Neeskens remains resolute after four League and Cup defeats that saw the Brazilians plummet to 13th position in the Premier League table.
Neeskens said at the club’s Chloorkop headquarters on Tuesday afternoon he was confident the club would turn the corner in Wednesday night’s Pretoria derby against fierce rivals SuperSport United, at the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville.
A mere three points from four Premier League matches has precipitated a crisis in the ranks of one of the glamour clubs of South African soccer, with over-zealous supporters running amok following the most recent home defeat against Maritzburg United and baying for Neeskens’ blood.
“I am heartened by the fact that we provided an encouraging improvement in the last game against Golden Arrows in Durban,” added the Sundowns coach, “and played in a manner expected of our reputation, until a last-minute goal proved a bitter pill to swallow in the 1-0 defeat.” Neeskens said there was fundamentally nothing wrong with his expensively-assembled squad and the string of defeats was basically due to a series of elementary individual mistakes, which one does not expect from players of the highest calibre.
“Still,” he added, “this sometimes happens to even the best of teams in soccer, when nothing seems to go your way.
“It is frustrating,” he admitted, “because I cannot point to any specific area and say that is where we need strengthening. We’ve got the necessary material and I believe the tide is about to turn in our favour.” Neeskens pointed to the fact that defending Premier League champions Orlando Pirates and runners-up Moroka Swallows had both made indifferent starts to last season before finding their feet and ending up as the top clubs in the country.
The Sundowns coach said the team was also boosted for the game against SuperSport by the return of several players who had been unavailable because of injuries and other reasons. Zimbabwean international striker Nyasha Mushekwi, who has been on trials in Europe, is now back in fighting shape.
But there is no bright news for the Sundowns’ fans regarding Bafana Bafana striker Katlego Mphela, who has been out of soccer since the start of the season and is still recuperating from injury.
“There has been some improvement,” said Neeskens, “but he has not been able to resume training with the squad, let alone start playing.” Sundowns captain Teko Modise said it was natural the players were unhappy over the club’s recent eclipse, “but we remain united and optimistic of a change in fortunes.” He believed it could happen in the game against SuperSport, although Sundowns would not under-estimate a team with no noticeable weaknesses and a proven record of success.
Modise said it was “not up to me to figure out how SuperSport will respond to their MTN8 Cup Final defeat against Moroka Swallows over the week-end.
“I know how I react to a setback — I don’t know how it affects others.” But it was Liberian international star and former SuperSport United midfielder, Anthony Laffor, who possibly best reflected the feelings in the Brazilians’ camp surrounding Wednesday night’s derby at Lucas Moripe Stadium.
“This is a must-win game for us,” he said. “We can’t view it as anything else.”