CAPE TOWN – Bloemfontein Celtic will be hit hard by the near-universal phenomenon of playing in empty stadiums because they will not be able to feed off the crowd magic that so often has given them a leg-up in the past.
On Saturday after four months of inactivity, Celtic will be returning to action in their Nedbank Cup semi-final against Baroka FC at Orlando Stadium, where they face the daunting prospect of playing with no-one there to watch it.
For many years, Celtic’s army of green and white-clad supporters have showcased South Africa’s best scenario of football’s finest passion.
Over the years, the green and white juggernaut have been there every step of the way for Celtic.
The empty stadium is a double whammy for Celtic because their raucous fans will not be there to intimidate the opposition.
As much as it will be a unique experience in an alien setting for the players, the match on Saturday will mark the debut of John Maduka as the new coach of Celtic.
The Malawian-born international was previously the assistant to Lehlohonolo Seema who has taken over the reins at Chippa United.
Maduka is a former Celtic captain and over five seasons he has a record of 118 appearances. He is also a seasoned international with around 90 caps for the national team of Malawi – The Flames.
Going into Saturday’s match, Maduka’s biggest concern is much the same as his Baroka counterpart Dylan Kerr.
Both feel they needed more time to whip the players into shape for the restart of the country’s elite league.
“When we started preparing for the restart of the season, the team did not know the actual date when the league will start,” said Maduka. “It has been difficult for all the clubs and I suspect we have to deal with the same challenge – a lack of fitness.
“We have not been able to play friendlies or warm-up matches as a result of Covid-19 and it’s not certain whether players are 100% fit or not.”
Maduka is pleased with football’s revised rules which now permit five substitutes and it will offer a team a lifeline should the fare on the pitch take a physical toll on some of his players.
Celtic have not been able to secure the services of Zimbabwean defender Ronald Pfumbidzai who has been unable to return to South Africa because of lockdown restrictions.
The Zimbabwean international has been rock solid in defence this season and his absence will be a huge setback for the team.
The Celtic-Baroka clash at 2pm will be followed by the second semi-final between Mamelodi Sundowns and Bidvest Wits at the same venue (7pm).
The semi-final winners will qualify for the CAF Confederation Cup, and the Nedbank final will be on Saturday, September 5.