Steve Barker has declared himself a “really, really proud man” after advancing to the semi-final of the Nedbank Cup with victory over Mamelodi Sundowns on Saturday.
Stellenbosch recorded a 2-1 come-from-behind win over Sundowns at Athlone Stadium.
Iqraam Rayners scored twice in the second half after ‘Downs had taken the lead through a Lee Langeveldt own goal.
The result sees the Maroons reach the semi-final of the Nedbank Cup for the first time.
Stellenbosch FC advanced to the next round of the Nedbank Cup after recording a 2-1 come-from-behind win over reigning champions Mamelodi Sundowns at the Athlone Stadium on Saturday evening.
Sundowns opened the lead through an unfortunate own goal by Stellies ‘keeper Lee Langeveldt but responded in style during the second half where Iqraam Rayners continued his impressive goalscoring form by scoring twice in quick succession to seal a famous victory.
“I am sitting here today as a really, really proud man,” Barker said. “I thought it was a top-class performance from everybody in terms of effort, commitment, defensive structure, and organisation.
“Obviously, a team like Sundowns will dominate possession. They will have moments and chances, but I do feel that even though they dominated the possession, if you look back at the game, it was not like our goalkeeper Lee Langeveldt had to make too many saves.
“I am very proud of the effort of the players in terms of the way they defended. We always knew that our best chance would be from transition moments and we did create a couple of those. Unfortunately, in the first half the final pass or final decision just wasn’t good enough.
“We had two good breakaways just before they scored their goal so the half-time message was to continue and keep the structure because the first 15-20 minutes will be key, and that it was important to keep our shape because we were creating chances.
“To get the early goal in the second half, and then again to benefit from some sloppy defensive play from Sundowns, but sometimes when you work as hard as we did, you create your own luck and I think today was one of those situations where our work ethic created those opportunities for us.
“If you have a player like Iqraam Rayners in your team, you always have the opportunity to score goals. He’s been magnificent in the cup so far, he’s scored two goals in every round, so well done to him, but I can’t single any player out today. I think every single player could have got Man of the Match this season, so I’m really proud of a really, really good performance from the team.”
The nature of Stellenbosch’s first-half performance was such that Barker felt hard done by to go into the break trailing, and he revealed that he simply reminded the players of what they were playing for in the hopes of turning the tie around.
“My actual message at half-time was that we were doing well,” he continued.
“I thought our back-four were doing good and that a player like (Sibongiseni) Mthethwa was superb in the first half. I felt that in transition moments, the key was not forcing the play because in some moments we tried to play the through pass when maybe going around or over them would have been the better option.
“At the end of the day, I just reminded them that what we’re here for, the message was that we need to fight for the badge of this football club, we need to fight for each other and our families and friends, for our supporters. We want to play in a way that honours Oshwin (Andries) in this cup run.
“That was just the reminder that we were still in the game and that if we worked as hard as we did in the first half, and get something back in the first 15-20 minutes, then we’d have the opportunity to go on and win the game.”
Barker was also quick to give credit to the guests, who were recently crowned DStv Premiership champions and who remain South Africa’s flag-bearing club on the continent with their performances in the CAF Champions League.
“I think we also need to give credit where credit is due. It is not easy for a football team to be competing in the Champions League, having won the league, and playing in the quarter-final of the Nedbank Cup. I think they were 24  games unbeaten ahead of the match, and that pressure builds.
“It’s not easy to sustain and win, win, win all the time. At some stage, they were going to have some sort of blip, and maybe lately that is what they are going through, but they are still a good enough team that even when they are not playing as well as they can, they can still get results.
“Tonight was maybe that situation where the pressure of always having to win football matches becomes heavy on the shoulder.
“I tongue-in-cheek told coach Steve (Komphela), ‘Let us win this and you go win the Champions League and we can all be happy,” but I can only wish them the best of luck in the Champions League, and congratulate them on winning the league. Hopefully, as South Africans, we can all get behind them in the next weeks and months in their journey.”
Saturday’s victory was sweetened by the fact that it was achieved despite the absence of a number of key players, including suspended vice-captain Deano van Rooyen. In his place, 19-year-old Kyle Jurgens was handed his first start for the club and he excelled in the right-back role on the night.
“Kyle is a great character and hard-working kid, and I knew that he would be able to give his best and play without fear,” Barker said. “At the end of the day, I made the decision to start him and if it didn’t work out then it was on me, so I told him to go out and defend well and keep it simple.
“We didn’t need him to get forward like we normally do with Deano and I thought he had a fantastic full debut. To play 90 minutes in front of a big crowd, in a quarter-final, the way he applied himself was really commendable.”
Barker concluded the evening by paying homage to the late Oshwin Andries and reiterating the message that the club has endeavoured to embark on a long cup run in his honour.
“Our first full match after the unfortunate passing of Oshwin was here at Athlone Stadium in the Nedbank Cup in a really good performance against Swallows which we won 3-0. That just made me believe.
“We’ve got a shirt of his in our team room that hangs in his honour, with the Nedbank Cup logo on, and his number displayed with his name. This is a cup that we would like to go as far as we can in, in honour of him. I think it’s something that the players are feeling and it would be great if we could go all the way for him.
“But I did remind the players that should things not work out and we don’t make it all the way to the final, it should not be due to a lack of commitment or will or fight. As long as they give that, I can’t complain, and I think we did that and played some really good football this evening.”