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Two hundred not out

Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
ZIMBABWE international Willard Katsande chose the grand stage of his 200th appearance for Kaizer Chiefs to produce a man-of-the-match display in Cape Town on Wednesday night and show he still has a lot in his tank despite the scars inflicted by his tough role as a midfield enforcer.

The 31-year-old, who led the Warriors at the 2017 Nations Cup finals, was the stand-out player as the Amakhosi powered to a 2-0 victory over the previously unbeaten Cape Town City, who are under the guidance of Bafana Bafana legend Benni McCarthy, in the Mother City.

It was Chiefs’ first victory of the season and its significance was seen by the emotional scenes that dominated their technical area, after the match, with coach Steve Komphela close to tears amid the wave of celebrations.

Playing without a number of their regular players, Chiefs were forced to dig deep, by a Cape Town City that played with freedom and confidence and kept attacking, with Katsande — making his 200th appearance for the Amakhosi — a pillar of strength in that defensive unit.

Bafana Bafana first-choice goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune also produced some good saves on the night and the club said it was a toss between the two for the best player of the day.

‘’It must have been close between Willard Katsande and Itumeleng Khune who would get the man-of-the-match award,’’ Chiefs said on their official website.

‘’Katsande was, as usual, fighting in the centre of the park, winning numerous balls. However, in the end it was given to Khune and deservedly so. The goalkeeper made a few crucial saves and showed leadership in defence.’’

However, SuperSport commentator Mark Gleeson and analyst William Shongwe were in agreement that the man-of-the-match award should have gone to Katsande who appeared determined to ensure that his big day, when he was making his 200th appearance for the club, would not be spoiled by a defeat. ‘’It was an emotional game,” the Zimbabwean told his club’s official website.

Katsande also talked about his 200 games for the Amakhosi. “My teammates and the supporters, who are simply phenomenal, played a big role to help me play so many matches,’’ he said. ‘’I am happy we got the three points on the night. To be successful is the result of all the hard work you put in.

“While growing up, I knew that my soccer abilities would give me an opportunity to succeed and to make a living and that’s why I worked hard to reach this achievement.”

And the gritty midfielder — who appears to be getting better with age — said he still believed he had more years playing at such a level and wants to be remembered as a Chiefs legend when he finally leaves the Amakhosi.

Siphiwe Tshabalala, who opened the scoring for Chiefs on Wednesday night, has clocked more than 300 games for Chiefs in his 10-year stay at the club. Interestingly, Katsande made his debut for Chiefs in 2011 by replacing Tshabalala in the MTN8 final which the Amakhosi lost 0-1 to their biggest rivals Orlando Pirates.

“I am still very hungry and I have a burning desire to continue doing well for the club,’’ said Katsande. ‘’I want to go down as a legend in Kaizer Chiefs’ rich history.”

The stage had been perfectly set for Katsande, one of the few leaders in the Chiefs line-up on the night, and he responded with a performance that was a credit to all the experience he has gained in his lengthy career.

For much of the second half, Cape Town City threw everything at their opponents with some sleek movements and a pace that never appeared to wilt under the Cape Town lights. “I never expected to play that many games for Kaizer Chiefs,” Katsande said.

‘’This is really great. “I used to watch the Soweto Derby even when I was still in Zimbabwe. The first Derby was tough and the pressure immense. However, in recent years I have learnt to handle the pressure of a Derby.”

Katsande’s first goal, just like his debut for Chiefs, would come in the Soweto Derby against Pirates in 2014, a decisive strike that helped them win the game 1-0.

“That was an amazing experience. I will never forget that goal.” Katsande has been a regular starter for the Amakhosi, since making his debut, showing his value for the Glamour Boys of South African football where a number of foreigners have found the going tough and have been devoured by the pressure and expectations.

His Zimbabwean counterpart, Edmore Chirambadare, who was voted the club’s most improved player in his first season at the Soweto giants, was on the bench all night yesterday.

Katsande has now started in 192 games for Chiefs and was introduced as a substitute eight times. The matches include all official matches — league, the knock-out tournament and the CAF competitions.

He has been on target 14 times with his most recent goal came in the ABSA Premiership coming against Maritzburg United on 11 February 2017 in a 2-1 win for the Glamour Boys.

Last season, Katsande won an incredible 75% of all battles he plunged into with his opponents on the ground according to official statistics from Kaizer Chiefs.

Zimbabweans have a proud history of doing well at the Amakhosi, beginning with the legendary Ebson “Sugar’’ Muguyo in the ‘70s while the likes of Knowledge Musona, who replaced Katsande as the Warriors skipper, and Rabson Muchichwa also made a huge impression there.