The seventh edition of South Africa’s Varsity Football competition concluded in fine style, with a new name etched on the men’s trophy and the defending ladies’ champions continuing their dominance.
The annual Varsity Football tournament is a two-month competition which sees the top eight South African university football teams contest for the prestigious trophy amid great fanfare, nationwide television coverage and the financial backing of many well-known South African brands.
Perennial men’s finalists Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), who had contested the final in four of the previous six editions, were once again hot off the starting blocks this year, winning their first three matches in succession and losing just once in the group stages to finish top of the table in the preliminaries.
Toe-to-toe with the early favourites was University of the Western Cape (UWC), who also lost just once while winning four of their seven group stage matches. 2017 champions University of Pretoria also had an identical record.
Rounding off the top four teams and securing the remaining semi-final berth was North West University (NWU), who finished two points behind the top three. They were on top of their game in the last four, beating UWC with a hard-fought 1-0 victory to qualify for a Varsity Football final for the first time in their history.
There was drama in the second semi-final between Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and University of Pretoria (UP), with UP taking the first-half lead before TUT levelled matters ten minutes from time, before emerging victorious on penalties to complete the comeback and earn a spot in the Varsity Football final for a record fifth time.
With all the omens in favour of TUT, first-time finalists NWU did have one advantage: home turf in Mafikeng. With the home crowd’s full support, nicknamed the ‘Purple Army’, NWU got the better of the visitors who were reduced to just nine players for the last quarter of the match.
Lindani Nkabinde steered a pinpoint cross home to put the hosts ahead, a lead they would hold onto until the final whistle when the jubilant home fans were sent into delirium as the North West University celebrated their maiden Varsity Football competition victory.
TUT’s men’s final loss was somewhat cushioned by the result earned by their women’s team who, after going unbeaten throughout the tournament, squared up against University of the Western Cape in the final looking to continue their dominance of the competition and make it six Varsity Football women’s titles in a row.
Yet the favourites were under early pressure after going a goal down in the 18th minute as Janice Smith put the underdogs ahead, but soon after the break TUT were back on level terms as Hildah Magaia capitalised on an error by the opposing goalkeeper to tuck the ball into the back of the net.
With senior national women’s team coach Desiree Ellis in attendance – with a number of Varsity Football players having come through the ranks and graduating to the South African senior team – the final failed to produce any more goals as the match boiled down to the lottery of a penalty shootout, with TUT holding their nerve to claim a 4-1 victory and hold aloft a record sixth consecutive women’s Varsity Football trophy.