Going into Varsity Football Round 7, UFS sat top of the table so would not have expected their evening to unfold as it did.
Morethebe ‘Queen’ Modutuane’s charges arrived at Tuks Stadium, to face fifth-placed UP-Tuks, confident of getting the result they needed to claim a semi-final spot.
Furthermore, that would have meant back-to-back top four finishes (considering they did so in their previous season in the tournament back in 2014), but there was still a job to do…
UP-TUKS MAKE UFS WAIT
In UFS’s game itself, there was perhaps three critical moments…
Firstly, Siphelele Ngwenya should have given them the lead within 10 minutes when a long ball to him caught the Tuks defence once, but the in-form striker straight at Giovanni Idi instead.
Then, with 17 minutes to play, Obakeng Seekoei hoofed a clearance over Idi. The crossbar saved UP-Tuks and then ‘Lady Luck’ added salt to Kovsies’ wounds two minutes from time when Tobatsi Roets’ cross-come-shot deflected off their captain Gauta Mokati for an own goal which ultimately proved the winner.
The result saw UFS slip down to third (behind UP-Tuks and NWU) ahead of the evening kick-offs. Undoubtedly, the ‘what ifs’ would have played on their minds while they sat in the changeroom after before following updates from around the country.
UJ THREAT DISTINGUISHED
As fate would have it, UFS would not be able to watch the games which would have a direct bearing on their semi-final hopes, as UJ vs UKZN was next up on TV.
The Orange Army had their own feint hopes of sneaking into the top four but only if TUT or UWC came undone and they made light work of UKZN.
It was not to be as UKZN captain Lungani Nhlengethwa dipped a free-kick past Alan Mabuza to give the visitors a surprise 5th-minute lead in Soweto. Then Bongumenzi Zulu doubled UKZN’s lead with just less than 30 minutes remaining.
Lebone Lephiri did pull one back for UJ with 12 minutes remaining, but no comeback was in the offing (they lost 1-2) and, in any case, attention was now fully elsewhere where UJ’s hopes had already been extinguished.
TUT CRUISE, BUT…
Every goal in the late kick-offs brought a change to the ‘as it stands’ Varsity Football log.
When Tlotlo Afrika eased TUT’s nerves with a 38th minute opener against CUT, the goal effectively placed The Red Machine at the top of the table – on 13 points above UP-Tuks –which they had held from Rounds 2 to 5. UFS were now fifth, with NWU and UWC edging ahead of them by a point and on goal difference respectively.
As it happened, when Clinton Herwel gave UWC the lead against NWU in the 40th minute of their game UFS were in fourth and back in the semis – having scored more goals than the Noble Boys from Mafikeng (the tie-breaker after points and goal difference).
And so 45 minutes were left of the round-robin part of the season…
It was down to 22 minutes when UWC scored again through Jaydan Petersen (to become the 2019 top-scorer on four goals), which would have brought jubilation wherever the UFS squad now were.
For good measure, TUT secured their semi-final place with goals from Ronald Mabasa and substitute Moses Lehomela, which sealed a 3-0 win against CUT, but there was more to come in Cape Town too.
DRAMA AT THE OPERATION ROOM!
NWU drew a goal back at UWC Sports Stadium through a cracking Kananelo Motsoeneng freekick. Had the match ended there, a fifth level of tie-breaker (disciplinary record) between NWU and UFS would have been needed considering their head-to-head result was 1-1.
Of course, the game didn’t end there, and mere minutes later NWU were back in the semis courtesy of an equalising goal through a determined effort from Simphiwe Mlangeni.
The drama, though, was far from over. UWC had the final say at ‘The Operation Room’ thanks to a volleyed goal from Leandro de Sousa and celebrated finishing atop the table when the game ended 3-2 in their favour.
The result meant NWU and UFS finished level on points, and with the same goal difference… but the Mafikeng team’s rearguard effort in Cape Town saw them secure the semi-final place (and a rematch with UWC) courtesy of scoring nine goals to UFS’s eight.
Margins don’t come much finer than that.