Ajax Cape Town took temporary occupation of first place on the South African Premiership table Friday when they edged gritty Free State Stars 1-0 at home.
Whatever the outcome of the Saturday Soweto derby between deposed leaders Orlando Pirates and third-placed Kaizer Chiefs, one of them will replace the Cape Town side at the summit.
It will be Pirates if they win or draw and Chiefs if they triumph in the most eagerly anticipated clash between the South African giants for many a season. Should the derby be drawn or Chiefs emerge victorious, goal difference will knock Ajax off the top in the richest African national football championship. A sell-out 90,000 crowd is expected to fill Soccer City -- scene of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ final in which Spain defeated the Netherlands -- with millions more watching the game live on television around Africa.
Victory for a young Ajax side with a high work rate and a wily coach in Dutchman Foppe de Haan lifted them to 46 points followed by Pirates (45), Chiefs (43) and Mamelodi Sundowns (38) in a four-club championship chase.
"It was a really difficult game for us as Stars played a lot of long, high balls and we never really controlled the game. Our opponents showed lots of fighting spirit," said De Haan. "I am happy that we are on top -- if only until tomorrow evening -- but the important time to be first on the table is at the end of the season," said the coach who is considering retiring at the end of the season in May.
"Hot and Cold" Stars
Stars coach and former South Africa captain Steve Komphela said: "We blew hot and cold and a careless mistake cost us dearly. It was not a great game with neither goalkeeper seldom seriously tested."
Young Zimbabwean midfielder Khama Billiat scored the match-winning goal for Ajax 29 minutes into the first half when Stars meekly surrendered possession near the centre circle. Quick one-touch passing saw Ajax surge forward and when the ball was played inside from the right flank to Billiat, he touched it once before unleashing a low shot across Zambian goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene and into the far corner.
Nigerian Felix Obada completed a good evening for footballers from other African countries by scoring the 68th-minute winner as a Maritzburg United team just above the relegation zone won 1-0 at home to sixth-placed Santos.