SAFA teams have growing influence on Nedbank Cup
PIC: Monnapule Saleng of Orlando Pirates is challenged by Kamogelo Sambo of Dondol Stars during the 2023 Nedbank Cup quarterfinal match
Dondol Stars laid the blueprint in the 2023 Nedbank Cup, now the eight teams from the SAFA structures will hope to follow suit in this year’s competition and perhaps set a record for number of third and fourth tier teams in the Last 16.
Stars were superb as they defeated SuperSport United 2-1 in the first round 12 months ago, coming back from a goal down in that game, before ousting another topflight side in AmaZulu in the Last 16, and then taking giants Orlando Pirates to penalties in the quarterfinals.
It was a thrilling run, and showcased everything that is magical about the Nedbank Cup, giving players from the amateur ranks the chance to become household names on the national stage.
Several have since moved to bigger clubs in the professional ranks – Francious Baloyi is at topflight Polokwane City and Thabang Mnyembane is helping Orbit College in their promotion push to the DStv Premiership, while others have turned out for second-tier teams.
“At Dondol Stars we advocate for player development and we won't stand in the way of players who have opportunities elsewhere,” co-coach Khuliso Rashamuse said during Stars' run.
“An example is Lesedi Kapinga of Mamelodi Sundowns. He is a Dondol Stars product. Senzo Nkwanyana of Sekhukhune United is also a product of Dondol and there are a few other players too.
“The chair [Lordwick Makhura] believes in developing, creating chances and giving people a better life in football. That is one thing we never worry about.
“I think this tournament [Nedbank Cup] is mainly for that. If you play against SuperSport United and beat them and you go the extra mile with AmaZulu, obviously one, two or three players will be scouted and that is what we want.
“As a coach, if [a player] gets a good contract elsewhere, I'll be happy because I would have done my job. I would have developed a player for a bigger team or even for Bafana Bafana.”
Stars were not the only third-tier side to advance to the Last 16 in 2023, Mpheni Home defenders from Limpopo also made it through, but lost 2-0 at topflight Chippa United.
They have also seen several of their players move a division up on the back of that campaign.
The record for the greatest number of SAFA teams into the Last 16 is four, which has happened on two occasions.
In 2022. Summerfield Dynamos defeated second-tier Uthongathi, while Sinenkani FC ousted 2018 winners Free State Stars.
The other two third-tier sies into the Last 16 earned their spot with wins over sides from the same level as Black Eagles edged FC Sivutsa and Mathaithai won away at NC Pros.
That matched the record number set in 2020 when four teams from the amateur ranks also advanced from the Last 32 – Hungry Lions, who have since become a second-tier club, Happy Wanderers, Vaal University of Technology and Amavarara.
It used to be a case that professional teams would fancy themselves to brush aside teams from the SAFA structures, but that is certainly no longer the case, and the number of shocks are growing.
Certainly gone are the days when we saw the likes of Mamelodi Sundowns’ 24-0 win over Powerlines FC in 2012, or Ajax Cape Town’s 9-1 victory against Mainstay United in 2015.
Those sorts of results are unlikely to happen again, such has been the steady increase in the standard set at amateur level.
At least one amateur team has reached the Last 16 in every year the Nedbank Cup has been played, bar 2021 when the COVID-19 pandemic meant football was stopped at that level and so no teams entered.
We are, at least, guaranteed two sides from the SAFA structures in the Last 16 this year.
That is because Eastern Cape side FC Ravens will host Spain FC from the North West in the Last 32, while Free State outfit D’General welcome Madridtas from Limpopo.
Paarl United from the Western Cape go to second-tier Maritzburg United, while NC Professionals of the Northern Cape host Chippa United.
Highlands Park entertain Sekhukhune United, and an as yet unnamed club from Mpumalanga have a plum tie at home to Orlando Pirates.
The recent improvement says much about the level of players and coaching in the ABC Motsepe League, which is clearly closing and starting to catch up on the professional ranks.
Of the 26 third or fourth-tier sides to reach the second round since 2008, there have been no repeat performances while they were still in the amateur ranks.
Baroka FC famously did it in 2011 when they beat Moroka Swallows and Kaizer Chiefs, but they did not return to the Last 16 stage until they were in the second-tier.
The same goes for the likes of Maluti FET College, who would appear again in the Last 16 two years after they stunned Orlando Pirates 4-1. But by then they were also a second-tier club.
Hungry Lions are a club that could do that this year and repeat their Last 16 showing in 2020. They have an away tie at fellow second-tier side JDR Stars.
SAFA TEAMS TO REACH THE NEDBANK CUP LAST 16
2023: 2 – Dondol Stars, Mpheni Home Defenders
2022: 4 – Summerfield Dynamos, Sinenkani FC, Mathaithai, Black Eagles
2020: 4 – Hungry Lions, Happy Wanderers, Vaal University of Technology, Amavarara
2019: 1 – The Magic
2018: 2 – EC Bees, Steenberg United
2017: 2 – Acornbush United, Kwadukuza United
2016: 1 – Magesi FC
2015: 1 – Natal United
2014: 1 – Buffalo FC
2013: 2 – Tembu Royals, Maluti FET College
2012: 1 – Roses United
2011: 2 – BTX Liverpool, Baroka FC
2010: 1 – ALS Puk Tawana
2009: 1 – Peace Lovers
2008: 1 – Matatiele Professionals
* There were no teams from the SAFA structures in the competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic.