Themba Zwane of Mamelodi Sundowns is challenged by Sifiso Hlanti and Phathutshedzo Nange of Wits during the Nedbank Cup semi-final at Orlando Stadium on 8 August 2020.
Gavin Barker/Gallo Images
After a four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2019/2020 Premier Soccer League (PSL) season got back underway with some thrilling action in the Nedbank Cup semi-finals over the weekend.
The double-header at Orlando Stadium saw Bloemfontein Celtic storm to a 3-0 win over Baroka FC while Mamelodi Sundowns edged Bidvest Wits 3-2.
The cup final is set to take place on 8 September with the two teams competing for the R7 million prize-money.
Here, Sport24 reviews the weekend’s local football return return:
Sporting spectacle for TV audience
Judged solely as a TV viewing spectacle, the NBA – thanks to much-respected commissioner Adam Silver – deserve full marks for having produced the best TV package in the resumption of live sport. Everything about basketball’s restart in their Disney World bubble both looks and sounds great. With excellent commentary packaged with awesome TV images alongside the popular “fan-wall”.
Just a tier below the NBA, European football leagues such as La Liga, Serie A and the Premier League have staged faultless season restarts with excellent organisation by all mentioned football associations. All stadiums in all European leagues have been modified to be more appealing on the eye for the TV viewing public with the display of club banners and a virtual crowd occupying stands accompanied with the artificial sounds of fans.
With less funding and facilities, the greatest compliment that can be paid to PSL organisers is that there has hardly been any obvious drop in standard compared to their European counterparts. The use of hologram projectors displaying sponsorship banners has worked a treat in making games easier to watch.
We even also have our very own crowd noise too (comprising of our unique South African flavour of mostly the steady hum of vuvuzelas).
Standard of play
After watching some of the world’s best players – even Cristiano Ronaldo struggled to initially find some goalscoring form – get off to shaky starts it became apparent that players in the PSL would definitely show some rust after four months of inactivity.
The opening minutes in Bloem Celtic’s 3-0 win was sometimes a very tough watch as players struggled to find their rhythm.
Aspects of play – the skills that need the most practice and repetition, such as defending – seemed well short of the usual standard.
Defenders have consistently made some high-profile errors in recent times. Real Madrid’s Rafael Varane was at fault for both goals in his side’s 2-1 Champions League defeat to Man City as recently as Friday. Not to be outdone, the very next day Sundowns defender Mkotjo Madisha also had a howler in his side’s narrow win over Wits.
Staying on the subject of high-profile errors, world football’s resumption has not been good for the goalkeepers.
Pundits have explained this by saying that because goalkeeping is such a specialist position, they’ve struggled to replicate the specialised training exercises needed to stay in competitive shape.
Man United’s David de Gea – who on his day can be the world’s best goalkeeper – has made a number of errors after lockdown. Many more high profile keepers such as Thibaut Courtois and Kasper Schmeichel have all made errors in what has become a strange after-effect of returning to play.
Right on cue, Wits goalkeeper Brighton Mhlongo made an error that cost his side a place in the final.
A concern for all clubs will be the number of injuries suffered by players. The PSL again followed the trend set in Europe with a number of players pulling up injured. Following their dramatic win, head coach Pitso Mosimane said that four of his Sundowns players – Siphelele Mkhulise, Themba Zwane, Sibusiso Vilakazi and Rivaldo Coetzee – all suffered injuries.
Another notable injury was Wits attacker Terrence Dzvukamanja, who had scored both goals for his side, as he limped off with a suspected hamstring injury.
Sports science departments of PSL clubs are now coming to terms with the fact that continuing with rigorous individual training programmes throughout the lockdown period has contributed to causing further injuries.
Positives looking ahead towards an exciting finish
Some aspects that make SA soccer unique could potentially prove to be more suitable and adaptable to having to play games behind closed doors.
Local players tend to be more technical and a less pressured environment because of the absence of fans may be beneficial for players.
Referring to the NBA again – as it is a sport similarly being played behind closed doors – we have seen basketball players who were before deemed to be average “go off” in the bubble and post-career-high stats. This could prove to be the same for players locally.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to see players pulling out some extra skills from their repertoire or scoring ‘fantasy’ goals more likely to be seen during a training exercise than in an actual game.
It’s great to finally have the PSL back and it’s even more exciting to see what’s in store as we gear up to a roller-coaster finish.