PRETORIA – It took Mamelodi Sundowns’ supporters here more than an hour to relax and find their voices against a team two divisions lower than them.
But even when they found their voices, after Thapelo Morena put them ahead, there were still anxious moments as EC Bees tried, unsuccessfully, to sting the Brazilians out of the Nedbank Cup.
Sundowns scraped into the quarter-finals with a 2-1 win on Tuesday night after making nine changes to the team that drew with Rayon Sports in Rwanda in the first leg of their first-round Caf Champions League tie.
Those changes, retaining only captain Hlompho Kekana and Wayne Arendse, were made with one eye on the return leg of the Champions League here on Sunday.
Assistant coach Manqoba Mngqithi led the team in the absence of coach Pitso Mosimane, who is in Morocco doing the inaugural Caf Pro Licence Course.
EC Bees took advantage of those distractions and stung the Brazilians before they had settled thanks to individual brilliance from Joseph Chikila.
The 28-year-old former Jomo Cosmos forward, who scored in this competition for EC Bees last year against Orlando Pirates, went on a brilliant run on the Brazilians’ left flank, cut inside, evaded a tackle from Motjeka Madisha and beat Kennedy Mweene at the second attempt to give the amateur side from the Eastern Cape a surprise lead.
That goal made Sundowns play with more sense of urgency after starting on a pedestrian pace against a side team were expected to easily brush aside.
But the Bees were no pushovers, buzzing all over the show and took the match to Sundowns.
The visitors were calm under pressure. They kept the ball and played an enterprising brand of carpet football in a bumpy pitch.
Chikila might have put EC Bees ahead, but it was goalkeeper Khanya Mini who stole the show with his saves that ensured his team went to the break without conceding against Sundowns who boast the best attack in South African top-flight football.
Sundowns returned with vengeance in their eyes. Kekana unleashed a screamer just 36 seconds into the second half.
Mini stood no chance against the Sundowns’ captain who produced a vintage Kekana thunderbolt outside the box.
Morena, who started on the bench, finished a good cross from Jeremy Brockie to finally make Sundowns’ fans breathe having come close to being slayed by a team two divisions lower than them in a classic David versus Goliath.
The Brazilians are bankrolled by billionaire Patrice Motsepe whose pocket are so dip that part of his philanthropic duties sees him sponsoring the ABC Motsepe League, named after his father where EC Bees campaign.
The Bees chairman on the other hand, Nceba Ntlantsana, put the club up for sale after the end of last season as he struggled with the financial strain it had on his pockets and failed to get a buyer.
The huge difference in financial power between these two teams was hard to spot as the visitors gave a good account of themselves.
Ntlantsana laughed at the suggestion of his team producing a giant-killing act even though he went on to say that they draw inspiration from Maluti FET College and Baroka FC.
His team put on a brave fight in a bid to follow in the footsteps of those minnows who brought down Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.
EC Bees might have not succeeded against Sundowns, but they won many admirers and made their fans proud.