MTN8: The Big Preview

The MTN8 semi-final first-legs take place this weekend with a distinctly new look.

For the first time the last four features names like Chippa United and Cape Town City, highlighting the possibility of a new dawn in South African football and a shift away from the regular ‘big three’.

Mamelodi Sundowns are there too, and so are Bidvest Wits, but neither have won the title between in the past nine years.

In fact, the Brazilians’ 2007 victory came in the era of the previous competition sponsors and is the only time either have been champions in the past 20 years.

That makes it one of the most open tournaments in recent years and all four teams will fancy their chances of reaching the October 1 final.

First stop on the semi-final journey is the Bidvest Stadium in Johannesburg on Saturday night when the hosts entertain Cape Town City. The match marks the return of one of the home clubs’ favourites in Eric Tinkler to a team where he spent a number of years as player and coach.

The former Bafana Bafana midfielder, now coach of the new City franchise, was looking forward to it.

“It's going to be an extremely tough game,” Tinkler, whose side have already won both matches they played in this season, said. “Bidvest Wits are obviously one of the favourites to win the league, probably one of the favourites to win all the cups.

“But it's a two legged affair and you know if we apply ourselves in the correct manner, if we put in the same effort that we put in against Kaizer Chiefs and Polokwane (City) you know we stand a great chance.”

Despite two-time former winners Wits being the favourites, their coach Gavin Hunt knows all too well about that tag.

“There are no favourites to win this cup, anybody can beat anybody in this competition,” he said. “We were favourites last year and we lost.”

On Sunday, the attention will shift to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth where a red-hot Sundowns side are the visitors to Chippa.

The Chilli Boys have never beaten the three-time champions in any competitive match.

But their coach Dan Malesela thinks now could be the time, especially if they can blank out the attack of Pitso Mosimane’s team.

“The biggest thing is not to concede,” he says. “You know we have the advantage of playing the second leg away, so it puts pressure on the opponents not to concede as well.

“I think if we do that and if we score here then that will put pressure on them. We will see how we exploit things but this is a very good team we are playing.”

Xola Mlambo of Bidvest Wits is the only player suspended for the semi-finals.