Can ‘cup specialists’ Orlando Pirates topple Mamelodi Sundowns in final?

Peter Shalulile has battled lately, but is the leading scorer in Nedbank Cup history with 14 goals – 11 for Sundowns and three for Highlands Park. Will he score against Pirates today? Photo: BackpagePix

Peter Shalulile has battled lately, but is the leading scorer in Nedbank Cup history with 14 goals – 11 for Sundowns and three for Highlands Park. Will he score against Pirates today? Photo: BackpagePix

Published Jun 1, 2024


Jose Riveiro and Rulani Mokwena will meet in the Nedbank Cup final this afternoon (3pm kick-off) in what could very well be dubbed a “master versus student” clash.

The two men will come up against each other when they lead Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns in the final of the 17th edition of the Ke Yona Cup at Mbombela Stadium.

This set-to-be-thrilling contest, which was sold out within hours, pits two of the best teams in the land this season – Pirates having finished second in the DStv Premiership behind champions Sundowns.

The final in Mbombela will be a different kettle of fish, though, and it is Riveiro who’s set to have the upper hand.

Since gracing the local shores last season, the Spaniard has already won three cup finals – two in the MTN8 and one in the Nedbank Cup – while his only blemish was crashing out in the Carling Knockout Cup quarter-final.

Their last triumph was sweeter for Riveiro in that it came against the Brazilians, with Pirates winning 3-1 in a penalty shoot-out in the MTN8 final in October, after the match ended 0-0.

Amid masterminding that victory, Riveiro has endeared himself as a cup specialist to “The Ghost”, who’ll expect him to complete another cup double in a season for the second time in a row.

The 48-year-old is not fazed by that feat, though. In fact, he has lauded his team for thriving under pressure in cup competitions.

“For me, it’s a symptom of a clear thing that things are going well at Pirates as a collective,” said Riveiro in the pre-match press conference this week.

— Orlando Pirates (@orlandopirates) May 31, 2024

“You don’t find yourself in a cup final for a fourth time (in five tournaments) by chance, or because you have had a good day.

“No, we can discuss the difference between cups and leagues, the phase and consistency, but the team is showing capacity not only to beat any opponent, but overcoming obstacles as well.

“Cups are very complicated. We are now talking about penalties and extra time, many different scenarios. The team is getting matured in this process.”

Mokwena also knows the complication of cup finals, given that the loss to Pirates was his first heartbreak as the sole head coach of Masandawana.

— Mamelodi Sundowns FC (@Masandawana) May 30, 2024

Mokwena has since endured punches in the CAF Champions League semi-final, Carling Knockout quarter-final and final day of the Premiership.

But the record-winning league coach for Sundowns in the 16-team era with 73 points now knows why cup finals are played.

“Cup finals are unique. You can’t play the final in the context of having played and lost a league match,” the 37-year-old Mokwena explained.

“The game itself is about what happens on the pitch – nothing about what happened in the previous fixtures, nothing about what happened in the last game.

— Mamelodi Sundowns FC (@Masandawana) May 31, 2024

“It is about performing. Finals are not meant to be played. They are meant to be won, and that’s the mentality we are going to have.

“It’s a cup final, a completely different competition, and we just want to make sure we win the trophy and finish the season on a high.

“That’s what this group deserves, and hopefully we can do that (today).”

Despite Riveiro being on course to win a cup double, he argues that a downfall in Mbombela won’t disregard the success of their campaign.

“In terms of the feeling we have as a group, the football that we managed to display this season, it’s already the best one,” Riveiro said.

“Whatever happens (today) (won’t really matter).

“What we can already see now tells me that this season was really, really good. If we can put the cherry on top, that’d be fantastic – and we really want to do it, don’t get me wrong.

“I am not saying I am already satisfied, and whatever happens (today), I am fine, no!

“I am not, but I am not going to evaluate the season because of the next 90 minutes, not at all.”