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Orlando Pirates coach Jose Riveiro.
Orlando Pirates coach Jose Riveiro.
Image: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images

For Orlando Pirates, matching last season’s runners-up finish and booking their place in a competition they feel they rightfully belong in, the Caf Champions League, are on the line in their last two Premier Soccer League (PSL) games.

For the present holders of second place, Stellenbosch FC, capping their best season yet in the top-flight with a silver medal and earning a first Champions League place in their history, are monumental ambitions to strive for.

So both of the well-coached combinations have it all to play for beginning with this weekend’s clashes that will be potentially make or break in those targets.

Stellenbosch (50 points from 28 games) meet Mamelodi Sundowns at Athlone Stadium on Saturday aiming to derail the Brazilians’ target of becoming SA’s “Invincibles” with an unbeaten league season. The Cape side’s last match on May 25 is against at present second-last-placed Richards Bay FC, who will be desperate to escape the playoffs position.

Pirates (49 points from 28 matches) meet fifth-placed TS Galaxy at Mbombela Stadium on Saturday and sixth-placed SuperSport United at Orlando Stadium on May 25.

Steve Barker’s ambitious Stellies have made the most of relatively modest resources balanced by a superb facility at Stellenbosch University's high performance centre, sensible management and an excellently well-targeted signing policy to be competitive in the Premiership.

They won their first trophy, the Carling Knockout, this campaign. That makes for their best season even if they finish third, which they are assured of — a culmination of their steady progression from 10th-placed finish in their first top flight campaign in 2019-20, which was followed by placings of 14th, fourth and sixth.

Pirates have been SA’s cup kings in coach Jose Riveiro’s two seasons, reaching four out of the last five finals and winning all of those. They defended their MTN8 title this campaign and are in the Nedbank Cup final, where they meet Sundowns at Mbombela Stadium on June 1.

Their run of silverware is balanced by disappointment at not pushing Downs closer for the league title this campaign.

Riveiro knows Bucs’ clashes against Galaxy and SuperSport will be tough. The Rockets are aiming to cap their highest finish in their fourth PSL season (they previously managed ninth, 13th and 10th) by ending as high as possible. Gavin Hunt’s SuperSport will feel they deserve better than a sixth-placed finish.

A case in point of the trickiness of games at the death of the campaign was Bucs’ 1-0 defeat to Richards Bay at Orlando on Saturday that ended a stirring seven-match winning run in all competitions. Bay moved to 27 points, just two behind third-last Royal AM, to give themselves a shot at avoiding the playoffs.

“Our opponents [on Saturday] played a good game — they played with intensity, were focused the whole game, threatening us in transitions,” Riveiro said.

“You could see it from the way they celebrated the three points because it meant they might avoid relegation.

“Everybody is playing for something. Some targets are bigger than others, but from now until the end of the season the points are expensive.”

Another indicator of the intensity of competition in the final rounds was that Stellenbosch also slipped up on Saturday, losing 2-0 to Moroka Swallows at Dobsonville Stadium as the 14th-placed Birds took a big step to avoiding the playoffs. That defeat ended an 18-game league unbeaten run for Barker's team.

 


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