Cape Town City will take a one-goal advantage into their MTN8 semi-final second leg tie with Mamelodi Sundowns in Pretoria next week. Benni McCarthy’s side emerged victorious 1-0 from the first leg encounter at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Sundowns, at this early stage of the season, are already having to deal with a congested fixture list and, to prevent fatigue, they made no more than nine changes to the team that started against Highlands Park last Wednesday. Despite a significantly changed side, the Pretoria club was still as competitive as ever – and City had to work really hard for their win.
McCarthy was extremely vocal in the build-up to this fixture that, even though Sundowns had lost two influential players in Percy Tau and Khama Billiat, he believed the Pretoria club had this season, potentially, signed an even better player in Toni Silva. The City coach, during his time at FC Porto in Portugal, had seen quite a bit of the young Silva, who was, at the time, a youth player at Benfica.
On Saturday afternoon, in an enterprising first half, Silva gave notice of what McCarthy was referring to. The new Sundowns man caused City all sorts of problems with his intelligent movement, awareness of space and incisive running. As early as the second minute, he already had City defenders Koassi Koadja and Taariq Fielies in trouble with the referee for rash tackles, with Fielies booked for a foul on the Guinea-Bissau striker.
The possession-based football of Sundowns was very much in evidence as City chased shadows in the early stages of the match. The Capetonians just couldn’t get a foot on the ball as the opposition passed and moved with aplomb. Gradually, though, as things settled, City got into the thick of the action, and it made for a free-flowing, entertaining game. There may not have been all that much in the way of scoring opportunities in the opening 45 minutes, but the football played was easy on the eye. For City, Matthew Rusike’s shot from inside the penalty area was well-saved by Sundowns goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene and Roland Putsche headed over from a corner-kick. For Sundowns, in addition to Silva’s excellent efforts, the hardworking Lebogang Maboe rifled an attempt over the bar.
City came out of the starting blocks rather rapidly in the second half, had some really inviting opportunities, but failed to make the most of it, with Craig Martin’s miss from close in the most glaring. At the other end, Sundowns gave as good as they got, and the champion Pretoria club was desperately unlucky when Sphelele Mkhulise rattled a shot against the crossbar.
With 30 minutes to go, it became apparent that Sundowns were happy to play out a draw and take their chances in the second leg next week; they sat back and tried to catch City on the counter. It was a strategy that backfired as it allowed the Citizens to turn up the gas and attack with more purpose – and, with the pressure starting to tell, it was no surprise when the goal came in the 75th minute. Ayanda Patosi whipped in the corner-kick, substitute Kwanda Mngonyama headed down at the far post, and Fielies reacted quickest to steer the ball into the net.
The goal will be crucial for City in the second leg, but the clean sheet is probably even more important. McCarthy was adamant that he didn’t want to concede and give Sundowns the benefit of an away goal. So, with that in mind, the City coach will certainly feel that yesterday’s result was a case of “job done”.