Stellies seek slick recovery to improve their standings

STEVE Barker and Stellenbosch are now solely focussed on securing CAF Champions League qualifications. BackpagePix

STEVE Barker and Stellenbosch are now solely focussed on securing CAF Champions League qualifications. BackpagePix

Published May 8, 2024


Smiso Msomi

STELLENBOSCH FC head coach Steve Barker expects his team to shake off their Nedbank Cup disappointment and refocus as qualifying for the CAF Champions League takes top priority.

Stellies host AmaZulu at Danie Craven Stadium today (7.30pm kick-off), three days after being eliminated from the Ke Yona competition at the hands of Premiership champions Mamelodi Sundowns.

Stellenbosch are currentluy second in the DStv Premiership. | BackpagePix

The Western Cape outfit have been the surprise package of the 2023/24 season as they strung together a 25-game unbeaten streak on their way to lifting the Carling Knockout Cup as well as second place in the league.

Now in the home straight of what has been a glorious season for the club, Stellies have four league games remaining in which they have to show up if they are to see off the challenge of third-placed Orlando Pirates.

Speaking after their heartbreaking defeat to Sundowns, Barker admitted that he knew he would have to deal with a defeat after seven months without one.

The 56-year-old also stated that he and his team have no reason to drop their heads in the final stretch of the season considering the fine work they’ve done in both league and cup competitions.

After their match against Usuthu this evening, Stellies travel to Moroka Swallows before hosting Sundowns again and will close out the campaign in Durban against Richards Bay.

Pirates, on 46 points, are just three points behind Barker’s men with a near-identical goal difference.

The Buccaneers have tough tests against Chippa United, Richards Bay, TS Galaxy and SuperSport United, which probably means the race for second place will go down to the last game.

Anicet Oura of Stellenbosch FC is tackled by Khuliso Mudau of Mamelodi Sundowns. | . BackpagePix

Barker said he expects the race for the other remaining Champions League spot to be highly competitive considering the kind of form both teams are in.

“Obviously, I think the Champions League is first prize and that’s finishing second on the log, both from a financial point of view and just playing in the Champions League, so it is definitely our aim,” he said.

“But as you can see, a lot of teams are hitting form at the right time. You can see Pirates are playing really well. I believe we’re also playing well, so it will go down to the wire. But we’ve backed ourselves to try and get to the Champions League.”

Stellenbosch only recently turned the tide against their next opponents, AmaZulu, grabbing back-to-back wins last year after never having beaten them in the eight games they played each other before that – a record stretching back to when both teams were in the second-tier Championship.

Barker will be hoping he can make it three wins on the trot against the KwaZulu-Natal side and place their top-eight chances in jeopardy.

Pablo Franco Martin and AmaZulu are looking for a Top 8 finish, and MTN8 qualification next season. | BackpagePix

Usuthu could miss out on a place in next season’s MTN8, a knockout competition they made the final of just two years ago.

Head coach Pablo Franco Martin displayed a frustrated and defeated figure when his team lost to 15th-placed Richards Bay last time out and will hope the harsh reaction he gave after that match will motivate his men.

He signalled a need to get rid of certain members of his squad ahead of the new season, perhaps hoping his group will play for their livelihoods in the last four games of the season.