Stellenbosch FC are braced to exorcise the semi-final demons that have prevented them from reaching the championship rounds in the past three seasons.
Today, Stellenbosch face Richards Bay in the first semi-final of the 2023 Carling Knockout Cup at the King Zwelithini Stadium in Umlazi (3pm kick-off).
The Winelands side have embraced the pressure that comes with playing for a spot in the final later this month.
It will be Stellenbosch’s third cup semi-final in a row after losing in the 2023 Nedbank Cup on penalties to Sekhukhune United, and the 2023 MTN8 to Orlando Pirates on the awaygoals rule.
Steve Barker, the Stellenbosch coach, is expecting a tough semi-final encounter in the competition, which is South Africa’s version of the “League Cup”, but has backed his side to emerge victorious.
“I think it’s important to take our lessons learned,” said Barker.
“The two previous semi-finals were losses, on penalties and then the away-goals rule, so it was a difficult pill to swallow. But I think those experiences will have given us the knowledge of how to approach a third semi-final in such a short space of time.
“That’s what happens in life. Sometimes you don’t overcome certain obstacles, but the important part is to learn from those experiences and make sure that the next opportunity you get, you take it with both hands.”
Stellenbosch will arrive in KZN in fine form after a dashing display against Cape Town Spurs in the Cape Derby during a midweek encounter.
“Preparations have gone well,” said Barker.
“We had the midweek match against Cape Town Spurs so it was just a matter of recuperating from that game and shifting our focus to what is a massive opportunity for us.
“There are no injuries or suspensions, so we have a full squad to select from, and the team is in a good space with some good recent results. I trust that the confidence and belief we’ve had in those performances can be taken through to [today’s match.
“But, we also understand it’s never an easy match in a semi-final and that form goes out the window in cup games. I’m sure Richards Bay will want to turn their season around by getting into a final, so we have to accept and understand that it’s going to be tough, but at the same time we are confident that we can get ourselves into the final.”
The key player for Stellenbosch will be striker Iqraam Rayners, who has scored four times for Stellenbosch against Richards Bay in the past, making him the most prolific player in this fixture.
That is more than half the seven goals the Winelands Club have managed against their KZN opponents.