Football

PSL Roundup: Gabuza Goes AWOL and Cape Town City Get Lucky

PSL Roundup: Gabuza Goes AWOL and Cape Town City Get Lucky
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As an American living in Johannesburg, I understand not feeling at home. This is perhaps the best explanation for why maligned Orlando Pirates striker, Thamsanqa Gabuza helping put his team ahead only to then force them to play a man down.

Through the first four games of the season Pirates had mustered just two goals, one of which was an own goal. The fans’ frustration with their side’s scoring ineptness found a focal point: Gabuza, who has made a habit of missing goal-scoring chances.

Pirates were on the road Tuesday, playing newly promoted Black Leopards, when all the vitriol directed at Gabuza finally came to a head.

In the 34thminute of a 0-0 game in which Pirates were once again dominating possession and once again squandering every opportunity to score, Pirates’ public enemy number one, Thamsanqa Gabuza, played a whipped cross into the box which Leopards’ defender Thivhavhudzi Ndou accidently defended into his own goal.

Gabuza celebrated the own goal by running over to the Pirates fans that had come to cheer (or jeer) their team in Limpopo, throwing his jersey into the stands and making the hand gesture for him to be subbed off (a gesture Pirates fans do at Gabuza whenever he misses a goal-scoring chance). Gabuza then walked off the field, down the tunnel, and into the locker room.

And he didn’t come back.

The game restarted and Gabuza wasn’t back from the bowels of the stadium. Pirates played the last 10 minutes of the half with 10 men. And after halftime, still no Gabuza and still Pirates carried on down a player.

Ultimately, Gabuza reappeared in the 51stminute to solemnly sit on the bench with ice on his knee (the initial reason given for his absence what that he’d injured himself celebrating/taunting the fans that had taunted him). The referee officially gave him two yellow cards (for taking his jersey off and for leaving the field without the ref’s permission) and at last we had an explanation for why Pirates were shorthanded.

The explanation for why Gabuza did what he did came the following day when Gabuza issued an apology for his actions and pointed out that while he was angered by fans calling for him to be subbed off, he should’ve handled the situation better.

The strangeness and the drama didn’t stop Pirates, who held on for a 2-1 win despite playing a man down. Maybe that will make their fans happy. Maybe not. It’s one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen on a soccer field and a sad situation when a team’s supporters aren’t supportive of their players.

So with an emphasis on supporting one another, allow me to offer the week’s ABSA Premier Soccer League roundup. It’s South African soccer through the eyes of an American. Wait! Don’t call for me to get subbed off just yet! This one is long, but in the future they’ll be shorter, I promise.

THE BIG THREE

Orlando Pirates (4th2-1-2, 7pts)

Pirates look sharp in defense and in the midfield. If they can score, with or without Gabuza, they’re certain contenders for the league crown. As mentioned, Pirates won 2-1 over Black Leopards on the road.

Mamelodi Sundowns (6th1-2-0, 5pts)

The defending champs and favorites to win this year’s title are off to an understandably slow start. The African version of Champions League, CAF, coincides with the start of the season and Sundowns were caught up in group play for the continental tournament only to be eliminated on Tuesday. Now entirely focused on the PSL, Sundowns’ depth and talent should see them rise quickly in the table. Sundowns didn’t play domestically this week.

Kaizer Chiefs (13th0-4-1, 4pts)

In three years under head coach Steve Komphela, Chiefs had a stout defense but struggled to score. Komphela was fired after last season because Chiefs had failed to win a single trophy during his tenure. So far this season without Komphela, Chiefs still struggle for goals and now don’t defend well. New coach Giovanni Solinas is still bedding in, but there are problems all over the pitch with Daniel Cordoso looking like a particular liability on the left side of the defense. Chiefs are notoriously patient with managers, so Solinas has time to turn the team around, but management’s willingness to wait and see won’t be matched by Chiefs fans that will not stand for mid-table mediocrity, which is where they are after a 2-2 draw at home versus Celtic.

THE EARLY CONTENDERS

Bidvest Wits (1st4-0-1, 12pts)

After winning the league two years ago, Wits endured a 13th-place finish last season. This year they’re back with an attacking brand of soccer that’s both entertaining and effective. Only Pirates and SuperSport have stemmed the tide of onrushing Wits players, and Wits still managed to beat Pirates 1-0 on an own goal. Even if the top teams can slow the Wits attack, their offense easily overwhelms the mid- and lower-tier teams in the league. That was evident Wednesday as Wits dispatched visiting AmaZulu 3-0. Taking care of business against weaker sides and occasionally picking up points against the stronger ones is a tried and true recipe for success that could see Wits win another title.

Bloemfontein Celtic (2nd3-1-0, 10pts)

Remember Steve Komphela? He took his defensive tactical acuity to Celtic and through their first three games they gave up zero goals. Komphela returned to Johannesburg on Wednesday as his new team took on his old team Kaizer Chiefs. Celtic gave up their first goals of the season, falling behind Chiefs 2-0. But Komphela switched to a 4-3-3 that jammed up the Chiefs attack and sent Celtic streaming downfield on counters. The brilliant coaching saw Celtic rescue a 2-2 draw. Celtic aren’t great, but with Komphela at the helm they could very well defend their way into the top echelon of the league.

SuperSport United (3rd3-0-1, 9pts)

Somehow a team named after the stations that broadcast every sport in South Africa is flying under the radar. Last season they fired their coach Eric Tinkler and immediately fell to just above the relegation zone. SuperSport climbed back up to seventh by the end of the season and will look to carry that momentum into this year. On Wednesday SuperSport welcomed Eric Tinkler back to Pretoria as he took over coaching duties at Chippa United. Tinkler’s Chippa side gave his old team some trouble in the first half, but SuperSport took a 2-1 lead into the break and held onto that score line with little trouble.

WE’RE NOT TOURISTS

Cape Town City (7th1-2-1, 5pts)

Legendary South African striker Benni McCarthy now has a full season under his belt as coach of Cape Town City. After finishing as runners up in the MTN8 Cup last season, City have high hopes for proving that they belong in the top tier of South Africa soccer and aren’t just visiting only to fall back into the milieu of the mid-table. With a substantial number of new signings, City’s season could be as unpredictable as Cape Town’s weather but there’s enough talent there to challenge for a spot at the top. On the other hand … Wednesday’s 2-2 draw versus Free State Stars saw City looking more bewildered than a German tourist in flip flops trying to hike up Table Mountain. City had to save a point by getting the equalising goal off an own goal in the 94th minute.

THE BEST OF THE REST

AmaZulu (5th2-0-2, 6pts)

Black Leopards (8th1-2-1, 5pts)

Golden Arrows (9th1-2-1, 5pts)

Baroka (10th1-2-2, 5pts)

The Leopards lost 2-1 at home to 10-man Pirates on Wednesday and as teams figure out the newly promoted side, they may start a precipitance fall down the table. Golden Arrows drew Polokwane 1-1 at home, splitting points between two teams that aren’t safe from relegation.

Highlands Park (11th0-4-0, 4pts)

Polokwane City (12th1-1-2, 4pts)

Free State Stars (14th1-1-2, 4pts)

The other newly promoted team, Highlands Park, got a fourth draw of the season by tying Baroka 1-1 on the road. Highlands Park will to try and avoid relegation by avoiding doing anything other than defend. It’s not the worst idea and they’ve already drawn both Pirates and Sundowns, so things can only get easier for Highlands.

Maritzburg United (15th0-1-2, 1pt)

Chippa United (16th0-1-3, 1pt)

Maritzburg were the big surprise last season, finishing fourth. Last season’s finish flattered the club as they weren’t that good, but this early position in the relegation zone isn’t reflective of the team’s talent either. Chippa fired their coach three games into the season and now hope Tinkler can keep them out of the bottom two.

The next league games aren’t until 15 September (or September 15th if you’re American) as the MTN8 Cup takes precedent. In the second leg of the semifinals, Chiefs host SuperSport with the aggregate score tied at 2-2 and Sundowns host Cape Town City with City holding a 1-0 advantage.

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