What to look forward to in 2018
Posted: 3 January 2018 Time: 16:30
It’s the start of a new year, and 2018 promises to be another action-packed, drama-filled and entertaining year on the soccer pitch, as we look ahead to what local fans can look forward to.
As was seen over the first half of the campaign, this season’s league race has been full of surprises, with Baroka leading the way for some time, while reigning champions Bidvest Wits currently dwell at the basement.
Mamelodi Sundowns ended the year with good momentum before their defeat to Cape Town City as they remain top, while less-fancied Free State Stars, Bloemfontein Celtic and City are all still up there in the mix.
At the other end, just four points separate the bottom five clubs, as we look set for fierce battle at both ends of the table this year.
Nedbank Cup glory
The annual Nedbank Cup competition is always a crowd-pleaser, with the various lower league teams in the tournament always up for a challenge against the 16 Absa Premiership clubs, with a shock result on the cards more often than not.
This year will see SuperSport United aiming to make history as they target a third title in succession, as Orlando Pirates try to avoid a third final defeat in a row.
The competition could also be Steve Komphela’s last chance at silverware as his three-year contract at Naturena draws to a close.
The last 32 draw for the competition will be held on 15 January.
Sadly Bafana Bafana will not be taking to the field in June, yet we can all still enjoy the spectacle that Russia 2018 is set to host as the top 32 teams in the world battle it out for the beautiful game’s most prized accolade.
With South American giants Brazil in fine form of late, defending champions Germany always a threat, Euro 2016 champions Portugal eyeing their maiden title and a host of other countries ready to challenge, it's set to be an exciting competition, which will culminate in the final on 15 July.
World Cup disappointment aside, the senior national soccer team has five crucial encounters to prepare for this year ahead of the 2019 African Cup of Nations.
Having started off the qualifying campaign with an impressive win against Nigeria, Bafana Bafana will be in action again in March, when they host Libya, who currently sit seven places behind in 88th on the FIFA World Rankings.
Thereafter, there are two back-to-back qualifiers in September, with a home and away trip to 192nd-ranked Seychelles, before Nigeria’s visit to our shores in October.
In the second week of November, South Africa will travel to Libya for their final qualifier, where a ticket to Cameroon next year could be up for grabs.
Four South African clubs will be representing Mzansi on the continent once more in 2018, with this year’s CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup tournaments kicking off in February.
In the premier cup competition, 2016 champions Sundowns will no doubt have another go at continental glory following their quarter-final exit last season, with coach Pitso Mosimane constantly hinting at building his squad for greater heights than domestic glory. The Brazilians will this year get their campaign started against either LLB Académic FC from Burundi or Rayon Sport of Rwanda.
Last year’s league champions Wits face an interesting dilemma: sitting precariously in the league standings, the Clever Boys will face an even tougher task coming up against the best in their CAF Champions League adventure. The Students will face Mauritian outfit Pamplemousses in the preliminary round for a spot in the group stage qualifiers.
In the Confederation Cup, SuperSport faced an arduous challenge en-route to the final last year, with their travels taking its toll on the league performances following numerous slip ups in the final matches of 2017.
They nonetheless did the country proud, but it remains to be seen how much of an effort the club will make to go one better this year. The Pretoria club will face the winner of the preliminary round clash between Angola’s Atletico Petroleos and Malawi’s Master Security.
Following their surprising third-place finish in the league last season, Cape Town City will make their first appearance in Africa next month, where they have been paired against Swazi outfit Young Buffaloes.
Having spoken about their maiden campaign in the media, with a handful of new signings already in the January transfer window, it seems Benni McCarthy and his charges will give the competition a full go at the first time of asking.
Off the field, it could be a definitive year in South African football’s managerial structures ahead of the SAFA elections in March. New leadership will be appointed at the Extraordinary Congress, though early signs still have a number of regions throwing their weight behind current president Danny Jordaan. However, there has been increasing support given to former Bafana Bafana skipper Lucas Radebe, who has admitted he is considering running for the post.