After heartbreak, Stellies look to secure African dream

Steve Barker believes Stellenbosch learnt important lessons in their Nedbank Cup loss to Mamelodi Sundowns this past weekend. | BackpagePix

Steve Barker believes Stellenbosch learnt important lessons in their Nedbank Cup loss to Mamelodi Sundowns this past weekend. | BackpagePix

Published May 7, 2024


Zaahier Adams

Stellenbosch FC coach Steve Barker believes his team are still in a golden position to book their first-ever place in the CAF continental competitions next season.

The Winelands outfit are currently in second place on the DStv Premiership table on 49 points after 26 matches – three ahead of Mamelodi Sundowns’ Nedbank Cup final opponents Orlando Pirates. Barker’s charges have four league matches remaining, starting with a home tie against AmaZulu tomorrow, before travelling to Dobsonville on Saturday to face Moroka Swallows.

Antonio van Wyk of Stellenbosch returns the ball to the halfway line after Genino Palace scored against Mamelodi Sundowns at Danie Craven Stadium. | BackpagePix

The final two games are against Sundowns (home) and Richards Bay (away). But in order to do so, they will need to put aside the disappointment of losing their Nedbank Cup semi-final to the Brazilians this past weekend, which also brought an an end to their 25-game unbeaten run across all competitions.

“It is always a tough one when an unbeaten record like that gets broken, coinciding with a semi-final defeat expending so much energy,” Barker said.

“So, it's going to be a test to see how we react to it. We still have to be positive.

“I’ve told the players that regardless of how (the semi-final) went, the next four league games will determine how good our season really was. We have an opportunity to finish in the Top 3 positions, as well as winning a Cup and reaching two semis.

“I don't think we need to be deflated because of one loss against a really good team. We showed once again that we are a really competitive team, and what we can do.

“We need to come back to work knowing we gave it our best. It wasn't to be, but there is still a lot to play for.”

Iqraam Rayners of Stellenbosch. | BackpagePix

Ironically, the last time Barker's team tasted defeat was also against Sundowns back in September. Barker, therefore, believes that his young team are making significant progress despite the loss.

“When you play a team that’s playing continental football, you learn certain lessons,” he said.

“We were stuck between how much to press them and how to take control away but they were able to find spaces out wide with (Khuliso) Mudau and (Marcelo) Allende on the left. They broke our lines quite comfortably and put us under pressure, but then I felt we slowly got ourselves back into the game once we had figured that out.

“It was a harsh lesson to learn. But we got a bit of confidence and worked ourselves into a position where we started asking them questions and putting them on the back foot.

“We want to be playing on the continent ourselves. I believe, and confidently say, that we are on the right track. If we can push Sundowns the way we did, it’s a good sign for us,” he concluded.