Steve Barker has backed his side to cause an upset against reigning champions Mamelodi Sundowns when the two sides meet in the Nedbank Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.
Stellenbosch reached the quarter-final stage of the Nedbank Cup for the first time after defeating TS Galaxy 6-3 in the Round of 16.
Barker has backed his side to put on a strong performance against the reigning champions at Athlone Stadium.
He will be without the services of goalkeeper Sage Stephens, vice-captain Deano van Rooyen, and midfielder Nhlanhla Mgaga who miss out through suspension.
The match kicks off at 18h00 and will be televised on SuperSport PSL 202 and SABC Sport.
“It’s a massive game this weekend, we all know the formidability of our opponents, but what a great opportunity it is to play in a quarter-final of the Nedbank Cup against the reigning champions Mamelodi Sundowns in Cape Town,” Barker said during the club’s media open day.
“It goes without saying that you need to play to your full potential against a team like Sundowns, and you have to execute your game plan to the best of your ability. When they have possession of the ball, we will have to be well-structured and organised, and stick to our defensive structures as best we can.
“Recently, we played against them and it was a 1-1 match. It turned out to be a tight affair but I felt on the day that it was a deserved point for us and maybe we could have even got more from it.
“We do, however, expect a full-strength Sundowns squad at the weekend and we are preparing as best we can and really looking forward to the encounter. We’ve had a good cup run, scoring nine goals across our two games, so hopefully we can overcome this hurdle because then anything is possible for us beyond that.”
Stellies will be without the services of goalkeeper Sage Stephens, who is serving the second match of his two-match suspension after being sent off against Kaizer Chiefs earlier this month, and Deano van Rooyen and Nhlanhla Mgaga, who have one-match bans for accumulative yellow cards.
“Sage has had a very good, competitive season for us, but Lee (Langeveldt) was going to play in all of the cup matches for us,” Barker said on the impact of the trio’s absence.
“That was a decision we made early on so he was always going to play regardless this weekend. He is a very competent goalkeeper himself, one of the best shot-stoppers in the league, and against opposition like Sundowns that could come in handy.
“Deano van Rooyen being suspended is a blow for us, especially in that position. He’s had a really good season and played almost all of the minutes so his absence is a blow for us, but as the cliche goes, it does provide an opportunity for one of the others.
“Deano has also played every game, so in some regard him not playing this weekend will freshen him up and give him time to get over niggles and knocks that he’s had over the season, and help us finish the league and hopefully one or two more cup games once he returns.
“The other suspension is Nhlanhla Mgaga. He’s always a great option and he started the season very well for us. In the last few matches he’s come on and affected the game, so not having him available is also a blow.”
Notwithstanding the absence of key personnel, Barker is looking forward to the prospect of extending Stellenbosch’s cup run and potentially causing an upset against the fancied Sundowns outfit this weekend.
“As players and coaches our careers are defined by wanting to win trophies,” he concluded. “We want to be able to one day sit back and say, ‘I won this, and I won that.’ It is a competition where you start in the last 32, with not that many matches. You start with five to go, then four, and now we have three left.
“That means we’re two games away from playing in a final and for us as a club, that would be a big achievement, to get to a semi-final, let alone a final. It is the FA Cup of South African football, it is a cup of hope and dreams, and the underdog cup where teams have had the possibility of advancing.
“It is a romantic type of competition to be playing in in terms of that underdog tag, and there’s no pressure on us. Sundowns will be wanting to win everything again, at least the double, if not the treble with the league, Champions League, and the cup.
“For us, we just have to go out there and enjoy the occasion firstly, it will be a massive occasion, and then secondly just to be brave and courageous and try and take them to game to them. That will be our attitude because this is a competition we really want to play in honour of Oshwin (Andries) and go as far as we can, and if not, it won’t have been for a lack of effort.”
“We analysed our last game against them and found that we did a lot of good things on the day and caused them a lot of problems. The disappointing thing was that we didn’t allow them to score in open play – they had one or two decent chances – but conceded from a sloppy free-kick.
“But, in terms of the way we played and our structure, we didn’t make it comfortable or easy for them and, especially in the transition, we looked dangerous so the players can take belief and confidence from that, as can we as the coaches.
“At the end of the day, Sundowns are the benchmark of South African football, both as a club and as individual players. Our players will want to show that they can compete with the best players in the country so there is always that added incentive to perform.
“We also know that Sundowns have recently not scored in their last two league matches (prior to their 1-1 draw against Golden Arrows) so we’re hoping they’re not saving their goals for the weekend, but we are excited and look at it is an opportunity and with belief that we can cause an upset.”