Premier Cup 2024 an all-Cape affair

FN Rangers St Agnes’ Sergio Fransch surrounded by a sea of blue jerseys in his side’s quarter-final clash against FC Porto. Picture: Fuad Esack

The Mother City’s legions of football fans, especially those keeping an eye on youth soccer, were understandably pleased as Monday’s under-19 Bayhill Premier Cup final, at Athlone Stadium, turned out to be an all-Cape affair as FN Rangers, making their debut, and former champions Cape Town Spurs lined up for this year’s grand finale.

The two sides booked their spots in the final following five days of non-stop soccer action at Erica Park, in Belhar, during the competition’s group and knockout stages. The tournament kicked off on Wednesday March 27 with the official opening match played two days later, on Friday March 29.

Maitland-based FN Rangers secured their cup final berth with an impressive 3-1 win against Highlands Park in Sunday’s semi-finals.

Speaking ahead of this year’s competition, coach Marcelino Fransch made it clear that there are no favourites in tournaments of this nature, saying, “It is my belief that our team’s chances are as good as any of the other teams taking part in the event. What I can assure you, we will be competitive.”

FC Porto’s Avela Vanya and FN Rangers’ Wahied Wilkinson tussle for possession during their sides quarter-final fixture. Picture: Fuad Esack

True to his word, the side certainly lived up to and exceeded expectations as they went about their business with ruthless efficiency, beating Leeds United AFC 3-1 and Windhoek Gymnasium 5-0 in their group stage fixtures played at the weekend and a hard-fought goalless draw against against 2023 champions, Grassy Park United in the tournament’s official opening match.

FN Rangers’ Bladen Liederman slide tackles Grassy Park United’s Ryan Hamdulay during their side’s clash in last Friday’s official opening Premier Cup fixture. Picture: Fuad Esack

Although getting their campaign off to a cautious but stable start, Friday’s opening match set the tone for a weekend of bumper soccer action leading up to the knockout stages. In the last round of 16, Rangers beat SSS Academy on penalties to advance to the quarter-finals where they beat FC Porto 2-0.

Safa Cape Town Academy’s Breyton Cleophas slips through the gap during his side’s last round of 16 clash against FC Porto. The two sides were among a number of Cape teams that qualified for the knockout stage of this year’s tournament. Picture: Fuad Esack

It was a good year for Cape teams in general with a number of local sides making it through to the round of 16, including Cape Town City FC, Stellenbosch FC, Safa Cape Town Academy, Rygersdal, SSS Academy, Young Bafana Academy, who caused a bit of an upset when they eliminated Stellenbosch 2-1, and Nyanga’s Everton FC. Four Cape teams battled in the quarter-finals – City, Porto, Rangers and Spurs, the latter going through to the semi-finals.

Cape Town City’s Dhakier Lee, centre, looks to tap the ball past goalkeeper Bokamoso Taukobong, during his side’s quarter-final match against Mamelodi Sundowns. Coming up to defend is Downs’ Naledi Kgobe. Picture: Fuad Esack

The tournament certainly lived up to it’s claim that the Premier Cup is where legends are born, with a number of former professional and national players who graduated from the local club scene to the bigger stages across the country and beyond, joining the throngs of soccer fans, some on official footballing business, others just to enjoy the spectacle.

Among those seen at the event were former SA under-23 coach David Notoane, former SA leftback David Nyathi, former Mamelodi Sundowns stalwart Surprise Moriri, former SA captain, Aaron Mokwena, former Santos midfield maestro Tyron Arendse, Wayne Arendse, another Santos and Sundowns alumni, a former Hellenic prodigy Lance Davids, who went on to play in Germany and Sweden before coming home to hang up his boots at Ajax Cape Town, former no nonsense national defender Nasief Morris, Ricardo Katza, who made 19 appearances for the national team and Kamaal Sait, who had spells with various PSL clubs, including Santos, Ajax Cape Town Amazulu and Orlando Pirates.

“Everyone who follows football is acutely aware of the opportunities the tournament presents to players, coaches, managers and even officials,” said tournament director Rayaan Alie.

“Many of them have been selected at the event and have gone on to enjoy illustrious careers in the beautiful game,” he said.

For Cape Town Spurs, a 3-0 win against Everton and 5-0 against Velocity Football Academy was enough to see them through the knockout stages, despite a 2-0 defeat against out of town visitors Shayamoya Academy in the final group stage fixture.

Cape Town Spurs’ Asekho Gqabaza shakes his marker, Themba Baka in his side’s 1-0 quarter-final win against Young Bafana. Picture: FUad Esack

In the competition’s last round of 16, Spurs, Premier Cup champions in 2022, beat Johannesburg’s FC Real 6-0 to advance to the quarter-finals against Young Bafana, coming away with a 1-0 victory and a bit of post-match drama.

In the semi-finals, they came up against fellow favourites Mamelodi Sundowns, whom they beat 4-2 in a tense penalty shootout after playing to a goalless draw, with the goalkeeper producing two excellent saves to put his side in line for their third Premier Cup final.

Cape Town Spurs’ Marshall Alexander shakes off his marker during his side’s 6-0 win against FC Real in their last Round of 16 clash. Picture: Fuad Esack