Stellies have a score to settle with Downs

ISMAEL Toure and Thabo Moloisane of Stellenbosch FC during the 2024 Nedbank Cup Media Day at Lentelus Sports Grounds in Stellenbosch on Friday. | BackpagePix

ISMAEL Toure and Thabo Moloisane of Stellenbosch FC during the 2024 Nedbank Cup Media Day at Lentelus Sports Grounds in Stellenbosch on Friday. | BackpagePix

Published May 5, 2024


STELLENBOSCH FC coach Steve Barker has the greatest respect for seven-times DStv Premiership champions Mamelodi Sundowns, but there is no way his team will afford the Brazilians a guard of honour ahead of their Nedbank Cup semi-final at the Danie Craven Stadium tomorrow.

It is traditional for the opposition to line up to greet the league champions, but with today’s fixture being a cup game, there will be no pre-match praise-singing from the home team.

“Congratulations to Sundowns for winning their seventh successive league title, they were by far the best team in the league, and they got the job done nice and early,” Barker told media during a Nedbank Cup media engagement on Friday.

“We do play them in a league game in two weeks, maybe we will give them a guard of honour then but not now Sunday (today).

“It’s a different competition, but well done to Sundowns.”

There is sure to be an extra bit of niggle at the Danie Craven this afternoon, especially after Stellenbosch shocked the mighty Downs in the quarter-final of last year’s competition.

Equally, Stellies are in second place on the DStv Premiership table and fast ridding themselves of their minnow status.

Barker, though, still believes that Sundowns are the benchmark for any South African football team to aspire to.

“I think for any team in South Africa, and we are one of them because we also want to be challenging to win titles, they are the benchmark,” he said.

“So, it’s a great opportunity for us as a club, a team and individuals to gauge where we are.

“Also, we are having a good season, but this is the ultimate test in the semi-final of the Nedbank Cup, the cup of dreams, it adds to the occasion.

“It will be interesting to see how we’ve done as we are playing them on a good run of form to see where we are at,” Barker said.

Stellies have certainly been the Cinderella story of the 2023-24 season. Not only have they already annexed the inaugural Carling Cup, but they are enjoying a record-breaking 25-match unbeaten run across all competitions.

This has placed Barker’s charges on the brink of qualifying for their CAF debut.

The wily tactician though, has not forgotten that their last defeat was from the Brazilians back in September.

“I think it is the first time as a club competing in all fronts, so we want to do well in the league and finish in that position two,” he said.

“It is in our minds to reach the final of the Nedbank Cup. We felt that we just have to focus on this game and make sure we put the best team and get a positive result.”

Sundowns are fresh off a 5-1 thrashing of Kaizer Chiefs on Thursday evening, but Stellies are full of goals too.

In-form striker Iqraam Rayners is leading the line with aplomb as Stellies have netted 12 goals in their last three matches.

“Our last three games, against SuperSport United we scored four goals and then five against Polokwane City and another three against Golden Arrows,” Barker said.

“One can only give credit and be proud of what the players are doing, and the way we are playing and creating goals.

“To see the attacking players week in and week out keep getting on the score sheet is amazing. I think that’s the reason we are a difficult team to play against currently.”