Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
THE MTN8 final today is set to be a grand festival of celebration of the huge impact Zimbabwe has had on South African football, with seven Warriors having a direct interest in its outcome at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto.
It’s an historic occasion — the decider being held in South Africa’s biggest and historic township in the year the iconic Orlando Stadium celebrates the 60th anniversary since its gates were first opened.
It’s also the 45th final of this knock-out tournament reserved for the clubs which would have finished in Super Diski’s top eight the previous season since the first one was held in 1972.
Orlando Pirates, the giants who use the Orlando Stadium as their home, were the debut winners back when the tournament was still called the BP Top8.
Since then, the tournament — just like the stadium itself — has undergone a lot of transformation, with South African Airways once coming on board as sponsors before MTN took over in 2008.
It was also the same year the Orlando Stadium underwent a major R280 million facelift to convert it as a training ground for teams ahead of the 2010 World Cup finals held in South Africa.
It’s a place that holds a special place in South African history as it was central to the landmark events of June 16, 1976, when thousands of black students marched to the Orlando Stadium in protest over being ordered to learn Afrikaans language.
That march sparked the Soweto Uprising, a key phase in the Rainbow Nation’s battle against apartheid.
Today’s battle for silverware, and the R8 million prize that comes with winning the trophy will have a distinct Zimbabwean flavour in yet another advertisement of the influence local football has had on Super Diski.
Kaitano Tembo could become the first Zimbabwean coach to win the tournament should SuperSport United triumph, and in the process, cast away the demons of their failure at the same stage last year.
The 49-year-old gaffer picked a losers’ medal back then at the Moses Mabidha Stadium after his men froze in the penalty shootout and were beaten by Cape Town City in the lottery, with the match having ended in a 1-1 draw.
Kaitano’s SuperSport United team has a strong Zimbabwean influence, with goalkeeper Washington Arubi, defender Onismor Bhasera, midfielder Kuda Mahachi and striker Evans Rusike being part of the team’s squad.
Their opponents, Highlands Park, also have a Zimbabwean influence with veteran goalkeeper Tapuwa Kapini and striker Tendai Ndoro being part of their squad.
Kapini has just returned from injury, while Ndoro is being praised by his coach Owen Da Gama.
A victory for SuperSport United could see Kaitano all but securing a contract extension as coach of Matsatsansa after club chief executive Stan Matthews said the Zimbabwean gaffer has to win a knockout tournament and at least finish in the top four to retain his job.
“This is Tembo’s moment to shine. It’s his chance to impress and for his contract to renew at the end of the season,” Matthews told the South African media.
“His contract renewal depends on how he performs. If he wins the trophy, he will be able to focus on his other mandate of doing well in the league.”
And, yesterday, ahead of today’s showdown, Kaitano received support from his mentor Pitso Mosimane, who has cast a spell over all coaches in South Africa with his success stories in recent years.
“I would like Kaitano (to win) because he is my former player and also to be his first trophy,’’ Mosimane told Kick.Off.
“It’s always good because I don’t like this thing of coaches being sacked. I don’t want him to lose his job because South African coaches are being sacked and losing jobs to coaches from outside.
“I am not saying we must not get coaches from outside, but I am being patriotic. I am looking after my people because I was born and bred here. I was raised in the township.
“So, they deserve a chance. I don’t want Kaitano to lose his job. I think for him to hang around a bit, it will give him a caution if he wins it. Owen (Da Gama) will not lose his job if he loses (on Saturday) because he has done a lot for that club.”
For Mosimane to say that after his Mamelodi Sundowns were dumped out of the tournament by Kaitano’s SuperSport United in a Pretoria Derby shows the class of the man.
And, the Zimbabwean gaffer concedes that a success story today will be key for him.
“Winning this cup would mean a lot to me‚ especially to development coaches and players‚” he told a media conference on Thursday.
“I have gone through development structures from Under-17‚ Under-19‚ reserve team and to assistant coach.
“I think it would give motivation to those coaches who are working at that level because it is not easy to get opportunities at a higher level.
“It would also serve as motivation for development players‚ that’s why I am always trying to give youngsters hope by playing them in the first team.
“It would also mean a lot to me if I could be able to show coaches at development level that if you work hard there are opportunities.
“That goes to junior players as well because if you work hard you get opportunities to play for the first team.”
Kaitano won the trophy 15 years ago as a SuperSport United player in 2004, and he now has a chance to complete the circle by winning it as a coach.
“I am not really thinking about the fact that I have a chance of winning the tournament as player and coach‚“ he told the South African media.
“I will be able to think about that after the game‚ for now I am trying to focus on the team because it is not about me.
“There are a lot of people who work behind the scenes at the club and we work as a family where different people contribute differently.”
There is a R25 000 bonus for every player who gets a goal today, while another R25 000 for the man-of-the-match.