Platinum Stars-Baroka preparing for Nedbank Cup showdown
The final four matches in the first round of South Africa's Nedbank Cup will be played on Wednesday, including an all-Premier Soccer League battle between Platinum Stars and Baroka FC at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium.
Stars sit bottom of the elite division, while Baroka are facing turbulent times after the suspension of their coach Kgoloko Thobejane, and amidst reports that a number of senior players have been sent to train with the reserve side.
Baroka have a special history with South Africa's FA Cup, having twice made the semi finals as a lower league side, famously defeating both Moroka Swallows and Kaizer Chiefs while still campaigning in the ABC Motsepe League in 2011.
On that occasion they were unlucky losers to second-tier Black Leopards in the semis, going down on penalties after a 2-2, denying them the opportunity to become the first third-tier side to make a South African cup final.
They repeated the feat when in the National First Division on 2016, losing on that occasion to eventual winners SuperSport United in the final.
After a promising start to the campaign, Baroka have five defeats in their last eight games and that is likely the reason for Thobejane's suspension rather than any misdemeanour by a coach who marries healthy confidence and professionalism in the way he approaches the game.
For Stars, the match is a chance to get a boost of confidence after four defeats and a draw in their last five games.
"Cups can turn your season around. We are going to give couple of players rest but our priority is to win the game," Stars coach Roger de Sa said in a statement to the club.
"We are definitely going to give it our best shot. Baroka made a name for themselves in this competition.
"Remember they knocked Kaizer Chiefs out some years ago. It's a competition that they really enjoy. We know it's going to be a difficult one. We want to go as far as we can. Our priority is to win and when we come across.
"It gives us an opportunity to try out two or three players. It's a game that there's not much pressure compared to the league. We will try out a few combinations with couple of players.
"It's important that we keep the rhythm going and from our last game against Chippa, our performance was okay and we want to keep that going.
"We don't want to make too many changes but we know there are players that need a rest to recover a bit and there are players that need to be tested out and be given an opportunity.
"We also need to keep the new ones active and give them an opportunity. It's a bit of a juggle and hopefully we can make the right choices."
Also on Wednesday, NFD side Super Eagles host Free State Stars at Goble Park, a venue in Bethlehem the clubs share.
The match was originally scheduled to be played last Saturday, but was postponed after a torrential downpour left the pitch waterlogged.
That neither side effectively has home advantage negates that aspect, and Stars, who have been excellent this season under Belgian coach Luc Eymael, should be too strong for their opponents.
They've traditionally done well in the Nedbank Cup, reaching the semi finals in four occasions in the last 10 years, and Eymael may well target this as a competition they could win.
There is also an all-NFD fixture between Stellenbosch FC and leaders Highlands Park that both might feel is a distraction from their main aim - promotion to the Premier League.
Finally, Bloemfontein Young Tigers from the ABC Motsepe League have the chance to spring a surprise when they travel to second-tier Richards Bay.
There are already two teams from the amateur structures in the Last 16 - Steenberg United and EC Bees - although both of those won matches against teams also from the SAFA structures.
The draw for the second round will be made on Thursday night at 19h30.