Kaizer Chiefs launched their campaign to become South African champions for the first time in seven seasons by drawing 0-0 at TS Galaxy on Sunday after what new coach Stuart Baxter called a “war of attrition”.
A dour match dominated by defences in northeastern city Mbombela offered little entertainment for TV viewers with spectators barred from sport events in the country since early 2020 due to the coronavirus.
England-born Baxter included Serbian Samir Nurkovic and Zimbabwean Khama Billiat as attackers in the starting line-up and introduced partially fit midfielder Keagan Dolly during the second half.
The trio are among the highest earners in the South African Premiership with Dolly reportedly pocketing 1,45 million rand ($95,000/80,000 euros) a month, Nurkovic 930,000 rand and Billiat 830,000 rand.
Nurkovic had a header saved by new Galaxy goalkeeper Vasilije Kolak from Bosnia and Herzegovina — Chiefs’ sole goal attempt on target — before being replaced by Dolly.
Neither Dolly, who left Montpellier after the last French Ligue 1 season, nor Billiat made an impact against a well-organised Galaxy defence that included new centre-back Igor Makitan, also a Bosnian.
Galaxy, who finished below Chiefs on goal difference in mid-table last season, fared no better as an attacking force with visiting goalkeeper Bruce Bvuma a virtual spectator.
“We did not deserve to win because our decision making was not good enough,” said Baxter, who has returned to Chiefs after leading them to the 2015 league title.
– Nurkovic ‘frustrated’ –
“I took off Samir because he had become frustrated, as all good footballers do when things are not going their way. He was trying hard without achieving much.
“It was a war of attrition and, in the end, the best both clubs could hope for was one point. I believe a draw was a fair result.”
Chiefs are the best supported South African sport club and those who back them are hoping Baxter can add to the four trophies he won during his previous spell in charge of the Johannesburg team.
Formed in 1970 by national star Kaizer Motaung, they have won a record 53 domestic trophies and this year finished runners-up to Al Ahly of Egypt in the CAF Champions League.
Goals were scarce on the opening weekend with only 12 in eight matches, and four of those came in a 2-2 thriller between Orlando Pirates and Stellenbosch in Soweto on Saturday.
The Buccaneers trailed after just 83 seconds, had defender Ntsikelelo Nyauza red-carded in the first half and took the lead before new signing Judas Moseamedi levelled for the visitors.
On Friday, title-holders Mamelodi Sundowns edged 2021 league runners-up AmaZulu 1-0 in Pretoria thanks to a Themba Zwane penalty just before half-time.