EARLY indications in the Absa Premiership are that it could be a three-horse race between Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and surprise package Platinum Stars for the title.
Midweek results saw Amakhosi surrender first place to defending champions Pirates, following their goalless draw against Mamelodi Sundowns. The Buccaneers beat SuperSport United 1-0 to jump to the summit for the first time this season, and Stars continued their impressive run with a 2-0 win over Bloemfontein Celtic and remained third.
Pirates’ surge to the top will be short-lived if Chiefs overcome their tricky clash against Free State Stars at Soccer City on Saturday night.
Pirates are not in action this weekend because of African Champions League commitments.
Chiefs coach Stuart Baxter said he was not bothered by what his rivals did.
"I am constantly talking to the players about our actions rather than the fruits of our actions. To be working on permutations and what happens if we don’t win is me with one eye on something else rather than the team. But if we take our eye off the ball, we will get beaten. We did so against Sundowns."
While Amakhosi dropped points, their next opponents, Free State Stars, enjoyed a scoring spree, hammering rookies Chippa United 3-0 at the Charles Mopeli Stadium. The August league encounter between Chiefs and Free State Stars ended goalless, and given the weather away from home, Baxter was happy with a point. The Bethlehem-based team are not poor travellers and will definitely attempt matching Chiefs in every department.
In Phokeng, Platinum Stars host Ajax Cape Town, who were held 1-1 by Moroka Swallows on Wednesday night in coach Jan Versleijen’s first game in charge. Platinum Stars’ Cavin Johnson will want to close the gap on Chiefs as well as Pirates.
For Verseleijen the need to collect maximum points is urgent as the club continues to struggle two places above the bottom of the log table after 17 matches.
Meanwhile, Pirates plan a feast of goals against visiting Comoros kings FC Djabal during their opening 2013 African Champions League campaign at Orlando Stadium at 8.15pm on Saturday.
Pirates captain Lucky Lekgwathi said they wanted to go to the Indian Ocean island without any pressure. "We want to win with an avalanche of goals to end their campaign here in South Africa. Going to Comoros for the return match in two weeks’ time will be just a formality. Djabal are a closed book, but our coach Roger de Sa and the entire technical staff have been trying their utmost to do some research on them.
"Our team is more prepared this time round, unlike last year where we were eliminated in the preliminary round by Angolan club Recreativo de Libolo," Lekgwathi said.
Despite not even knowing the colours of FC Don Bosco, SuperSport United are adamant they will embarrass the Democratic Republic of Congo outfit in their own back yard in Kinshasa on Sunday.
Matsatsantsa a Pitori captain Thabo September said they had recovered from the midweek 1-0 defeat by Orlando Pirates and would leave for Kinshasa on Friday geared up to start their Caf Confederation Cup with a bang.
"FC Don Bosco are a closed book to us but we have been informed they are a good team with brilliant individual players, so it will be suicidal for us to underestimate them. Our plan is to go there and win the match convincingly.
"First impressions last longer, which is why we want to do well in the first game, to set the tone for the rest of the tournament. We want to become the third South African club after Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs to win a Caf competition," he said.
With Ramatsiyi Moholoa
Friday: Maritzburg Utd v Mamelodi Sundowns
Saturday: Platinum Stars v Ajax Cape Town; Bloemfontein Celtic v Bidvest Wits; Golden Arrows v AmaZulu; Kaizer Chiefs v Free State Stars
Sunday: Chippa United v Black Leopards