Former Netherlands star Johan Neeskens hopes to step out from the shadows Saturday and claim his first title as a coach. He guides Mamelodi Sundowns against neighbours SuperSport United in an all-Pretoria South African FA Cup final before an expected 35,000 sell-out crowd at Orlando Stadium in Soweto.
Each club won away to the other in the just-ended South African Premiership, with SuperSport and Sundowns finishing third and fourth on the table respectively, behind champions Orlando Pirates and Moroka Swallows. Neeskens, a tall, slim, fair-haired 60-year-old, was used to success as a vital cog in the all-conquering Ajax Amsterdam team of the 1970s that took its inspiration from the legendary Johan Cruyff.
He has also experienced glory as assistant coach to another former Dutch great, Frank Rijkaard, at Barcelona and Galatasaray, but never on his own in spells with four Dutch clubs. For much of the South African league season, Neeskens seemed set to end the trophy drought as his expensively assembled squad built a solid lead only to throw it away with losses to lowly opponents during the run-in.
"We did a lot of practice on our finishing and in virtually every game we created five or six good scoring opportunities without taking them, and if you fail to score you cannot win," explained Neeskens.
There was one notable exception to this shyness in front of goal as Sundowns created a record South African winning margin by triumphing 24-0 away to amateur outfit Powerlines in the first round of the Cup. Zimbabwean Nyasha Mushekwi scored six goals in that incredible goal spree and another four in three subsequent ties en route to a final that offers $720,000 to the winners plus a place in the 2013 CAF Confederation Cup.
With injuries sidelining South Africa striker Katlego Mphela for much of the season, the burden has fallen increasingly on Mushekwi to score, with no team-mate hitting the net regularly. SuperSport won three Premiership titles before Pirates took the last two, and coach Gavin Hunt is seeking a first Cup triumph with a club that continually loses its best players to richer Kaizer Chiefs, Pirates and Sundowns.
National squad centre-back Morgan Gould skippers United for the final time this weekend before reportedly heading to success-starved Chiefs, where he is guaranteed a bigger salary and greater media attention. Hunt loves nothing more than indulging in mind games with opponents and the media and has created the impression this week that his team stand little chance of equalling the three South African Cup successes of Sundowns.
"Sundowns have quality players while all we have is organisation and big hearts," claimed the man whose sole South African Cup success came with Moroka Swallows eight years ago.
Neeskens is unlikely to be lulled into a false sense of superiority, though, with SuperSport recovering from a mid-season goal drought to show good league and cup form lately, with Thabiso Nkoana a valuable addition to the strike force.