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Sundowns v Bloem Celtic

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The all-new Telkom Knockout trophy

The all-new Telkom Knockout trophy

Mamelodi Sundowns and Bloemfontein Celtic will lock horns at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday evening with the 2012 Telkom Knockout crown up for grabs.

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It has taken each of the teams three successive victories to reach the Ziwa Mo spectacular, although it is arguably Phunya Sele Sele who have endured the tougher route, having had to get past a previously high-flying Chippa United, bitter rivals Free State Stars, as well as defending champions Orlando Pirates.

The quarter-final clash against the Buccaneers at the Free State Stadium proved a real thriller, with Celtic scoring two goals in the final few minutes to force extra-time with a 3-3 draw, before going on to edge the double-treble champions 5-3 in the penalty shoot-out.

The Brazilians, meanwhile, came through last year's National First Division champions University of Pretoria in the opening round before seeing off fellow PSL strugglers AmaZulu in the quarter-finals, and finally defeating Tshwane rivals SuperSport United in the last four.

In terms of league form, it is again Siwelele who appear to have the edge, with Clinton Larsen's men currently eighth in the standings with 16 points from their opening 12 Premiership matches.

Downs, meanwhile, only last week hoisted themselves off the foot of the standings with what was only their second PSL victory of the season, although they still lie in the relegation zone with more than a third of the campaign already played.

That victory was, however, at the expense of Celtic as their dress rehearsal for this weekend's cup final finished 1-0 to Johan Neeskens' troops.

A massive confidence builder for the Chloorkop outfit, but also an inspiration to Celtic to exact their revenge come Saturday.

The Dutch tactician, though, feels his side have been unfairly criticised by the South African media, and hopes winning the Telkom Knockout can silence the masses.

"The performance in training has been good," he said. "We lost a lot of games in the beginning of the season but we have improved. I make mistakes, my players make mistakes. We are all human.

"We need to be given more credit than we are getting. We have done well to reach the final. Some of you have never kicked a ball in your lives but you keep on criticising us."

With cup football, though, it is usually the hungrier of the teams that end up satisfying their needs, and with Celtic's last title success coming way back in 2005 in the shape of the SAA Sup 8 Cup, now the MTN8, the City of Roses must surely be drooling over the newly designed trophy.

And Larsen believes if his charges can show the "same hunger" that got them to the final, then victory on Saturday should be assured.

He said: "It's a big occasion for the club and the players. I think we deserve the cup because we have done it the hard way, overcoming defending champions Orlando Pirates and Free State Stars.

"The hunger we have shown in the tournament motivates us and if we show the same hunger and fighting spirit as in other cup matches, I believe we stand a good chance of lifting the trophy."

Pedigree, though is something that cannot be ruled out at any stage of any season, and Sundowns have that in spades.

However, it's been four long years since they last lifted a piece of silverware, the 2008 Nedbank Cup, and with their currently lowly league position one would surely believe that anything short of the TKO title this weekend would result in the axe for Neeskens, who has already ridden his luck by remaining in charge this term.

Posted: 29/11/12 12:23

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