So close…

I’m getting a little tired of writing hard luck football stories: England, Sheffield United, Sheffield United, Sheffi… look – you get my point, right? But here’s another hard luck football story anyway.

It concerns local boys Ajax Cape Town, who, thanks to the wonder of mathematics, were guaranteed the PSL title should they beat Maritzburg United at the Cape Town Stadium today. The mathematics also meant that if they drew and Orlando Pirates didn’t win, they’d still win the PSL title.  And even if they lost and Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs didn’t win, Ajax would still win the PSL title.

It didn’t seem that difficult.

And that’s probably why the fans went in to the game so full of optimism. The merchandise store was already selling replica kits with the trophy and “PSL Champions 2010/11” on the back. Dangerous chicken counting.

However, once the game started, you could see the gulf in class between the teams. Ajax were all over Maritzburg like an aggressive moss. But chance after chance after chance went begging. Then, just when I was about to remark that this had all the hallmarks of a 0-1, player of the season Thulani Serero, playing his final game for Ajax before heading overseas, passed to Khama Billiat who danced though the Maritzburg defence and slotted a shot low into the bottom corner.
[thanks It’s Still Ayoba for the correction on this]

At half time, it was all looking ever so good. Pirates were drawing, and who cared what Chiefs were doing, cos Ajax were ahead and fully in control, china.
But nerves crept in, passes went astray and Maritzburg worked their way back into the game. And then came 9 minutes of second half madness. Firstly, with the ever-dependable Hans Vonk being strangely undependable and doing… something… with a backpass that wasn’t a backpass and which he should have just simply picked up.

He didn’t pick it up.

And by the time he tried to kick it out from under his own crossbar, ex-Orlando Pirate Gert Schalkwyk was right on top of him. Goal Maritzburg. 1-1.
But rather than coming out and playing the dynamic, attacking football that put them within reach of the PSL trophy, Ajax continued to sit back. And it was to cost them dearly. A shot, an arm, a penalty. No complaints from the Ajax players and Diyo Sibisi stepped up and scored confidently from 12 yards.

Finally, Ajax remembered what had got them where they were this season and it was all guns blazing for the last 20 minutes of the game. But Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Shu-Aib Walters was virtually unbeatable. And though Sameehg Doutie got the equaliser with 3 minutes to play, it was too little, too late as news was already coming through from Orlando Stadium that Pirates had gone into a 2-1 lead.

At the end of it all, it was the end of it all. The were tears, but there was pride as well. For Ajax to get another opportunity next season will be asking a lot, with their irrepressible manager Foppe de Haan retiring, captain Hans Vonk on his way as well and the mercurial and magical Serero also leaving the club. Half the players made it out to acknowledge the fans – the rest were littered across the pitch and down the tunnel, utterly shattered.

Critics will point to Ajax’s capitulation in April against Mamelodi Sundowns, where they let a 4-1 lead slip and drew 4-4. Others will think that the 4-0 beating they took at Kaizer Chiefs a fortnight ago did for them – and that -4 goal difference did turn out to be critical. Me, I look waaaay back to October 2010 and the world’s dodgiest penalty that cost Ajax a win over Santos.

Had any of these games gone differently, Ajax would be PSL champions this evening.
But then you could say that about today’s game as well.

One final message from those who care in Cape Town, as displayed by my little boy, who was as disappointed by the result as anyone else there today and put on the bravest face he could:

All in all, it’s been a pretty rubbish year as far as my football choices are concerned.

Doesn’t mean I won’t be back next season though…

A few more photos here.

2 thoughts on “So close…

  1. It all feels a bit flat tonight.

    You are spot on about the dodgy Santos penalty and I flagged the same up over on my blog.

    Good account of a sad day overall – though I am sure it was Billiat who scored from Serero’s through ball in the first half. I’ll check this.

    And Vasco win 3-0 but still finish in the relegation play off….. bad day

    Leave a Reply