Fans can expect two epic Varsity Football semi-finals at Tuks Stadium on Tuesday, with both matches to be broadcast live on SuperSport Variety 4 (DStv channel 209).
UJ coach Karabo Mogudi is not reading too much into the fact that his team topped the Varsity Football log with 14 points from seven matches.
The modest coach insists that his side has not achieved anything yet and that their good run will count for nothing if they don’t go on to lift the trophy for the first time since 2013.
UJ head into their semi-final as favourites after TUT snuck into the top four with 11 points – one more than fifth-placed Wits. However, TUT have the psychological advantage having defeated UJ 1-0 earlier in the tournament.
‘On paper, we are slight favourites because we were the strongest team during the league stage,’ says Mogudi. ‘But football does not always work out that way. Our chances of reaching the final are 50/50. TUT started their campaign slowly and appear to have it up and running now.’
TUT coach Bushy Moloi says they defied their critics by reaching the semis.
‘We were dead and buried at one stage and now we are in it to win it. We are growing in confidence and peaking at the right time. We are counting on our experience to get into the final.’
Moloi is dreaming of a cup final against arch-rivals Tuks.
‘We hope to give the people what they want – a Tshwane derby final. We are focused and confident.’
In 2016, TUT defeated UJ 2-1 to win their first Varsity Football title and they lifted the trophy again in 2018. The Red Machine are looking to reach a sixth successive cup final.
After winning the inaugural tournament in 2013, UJ lost cup finals against Tuks in 2014 and TUT in 2016.
Tuks head coach Nicholas Stothard believes his team is peaking at the right time and will avenge their 3-1 league-stage defeat to Kovsies.
‘It’s go big or go home,’ he says. ‘Without confidence, you will not win this competition. We learned our lesson in the round-robin match and will not allow a repeat of what happened. We are peaking at the right time and are high on confidence. I may appear too confident, but I believe we will win.’
Tuks have won the Varsity Football tournament three times – in 2013, 2014 and 2017 – while the closest Kovsies have come was in 2014 when they lost their semi-final against UJ 1-0.
Kovsies have been the surprise package of this year’s competition, with three wins and three draws securing third spot on the log. They are the only semi-finalists from outside of Gauteng and many are rooting for them to claim their maiden title.
Stothard, though, believes Kovsies’ campaign will end in the semi-finals, with a ‘dream final’ between Tuks – who have won their last two games – and TUT.
‘I think TUT will beat UJ and play us in the final,’ says Stothard. ‘That’s what everybody wants.
‘Kovsies’ first game [against UKZN] was not televised, so they were a closed book before beating us. But we have studied them and done our homework thoroughly this time.’
UFS will pin their hopes on dreadlocks stars Sello Diphoko and captain Thabo Lesibe, who terrorised defenders during the league stage.
Diphoko was named FNB Player of the Match after their win against Tuks and is the joint-leading goal scorer in the tournament with five.
Kovsies coach Tebogo Motsamai wants his players to enjoy the big occasion.
‘We have nothing to lose and the pressure is on Tuks,’ he says. ‘They are the home team and the most successful team in the tournament. They also have an experienced technical team and experienced players.
‘It’s going to be a tricky game for us. We have to come up with a plan to upset them again,’ added the man of few words, who has told his players to forget about their Round 2 win against Tuks as it will count for nothing on Tuesday.
2021 Varsity Football top goal-scorers:
Banele Hlophe (NWU) – 5
Thulani Sibisi (VUT) – 5
Sello Diphoko (UFS) – 5
Welcome Masemola (Wits) – 4
Sanele Mhlungu (UJ) – 3
By Charles Baloyi
Photos: Christiaan Kotze/Catherine Kotze/Varsity Sports