North West University (NWU) are early favourites to lift the inaugural Varsity Football title, after the men from Mafikeng thrashed Wits 4-0 at Milpark Stadium on Monday night.
The launch of Explosive Mondays, where student football teams from eight universities around the country will compete every Monday for the next nine weeks, was festive and filled with entertainment on and off the field.
The match, played in front of a packed a home crowd was beamed live by DStv channel Supersport, as will 15 out of the total 33 games, and this raised the atmosphere to fever-pitch on a frosty night in the Highveld.
Prizes on offer for those who braved the cold added to the atmosphere. Cash prizes for the most vocal fans and res’s with the most colourful supporters, a raffle for five cases of beer and a sea of freebies made it a memorable evening.
Memorable that is, for all except the Wits student team, who were a goal down within the first 15 minutes, and forced to chase shadows in the second half when UNW put on an exhibition of idiski, or more precisely “ukupencila” – vernacular in South African townships for “keep-ball” and dribbling.
While the team from the North West was much fitter, quicker, and more aggressive in attack throughout the 90 minutes, the score at half-time could have been in Wits’s favour had the home team turned their dominance in possession into goals.
Wits were comfortable on the ball playing crisp, one-touch football that delighted Witsies, who chanted war-cries and bayed for NWU’s blood.
Phenyo Mongalo, Zachary Cohen, and captain Mzimkhulu Nhlengethwa were inventive in midfield and fed the strikers well, but Wits front-line just wasn’t up to the task and squandered plenty of chances to score.
Wits paid the ultimate price for their wastefulness, conceding a penalty in the 11th minute and another three goals in the final quarter of the game.
Wits head coach, Karabo Mogudi attributed the disappointing performance to the recent university vacations, which he said affected his team’s fitness.
“If our conditioning level was at the required standard we would have done much better,” he said.
Mogudi said NWU were fitter and sharper than his charges because they had been training in preparation for National First Division (NFD) play-offs.
He also said the tournament was a great initiative, but stressed that it was important for the players to be successful on and off the field.
“I’ll only know the benefits of the tournament at the end of the year, when everyone passes and does well in their studies … when they come back to me and say ‘coach, I don’t owe the University anything”.