ATTERIDGEVILLE – On paper, Mamelodi Sundowns’ heavy artillery – especially with the addition of Oupa Manyisa and George Lebese – had already won them this MTN8 quarter-final fixture against Maritzburg United.
But the reality is that they were facing their bogey side, come to think of it.
Often when these two sides face off, there’s hardly anything electric about the encounter itself – until Maritzburg take a surprise lead, which is a regular occurrence and happened again on Sunday as the Team of Choice won 1-0.
Last season, for instance, Maritzburg held the Brazilians to a goalless draw in the opening Premier League game at the Harry Gwala Stadium almost exactly 12 months ago.
And then Maritzburg derailed Sundowns’ title defence at this very venue in the corresponding fixture by winning 2-0.
One of the scorers that night, striker Evans Rusike, was tormentor-in-chief again here with a goal that proved to be the winner to send Maritzburg to the semi-finals of the MTN8, where they joined defending champions Bidvest Wits, SuperSport United and Cape Town City.
Sundowns, unsurprisingly, were mostly dominant as they enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession, but hardly troubled goalkeeper Bongani Mpandle.
Kennedy Mweene, too, was a spectator for much of the game at the other end of the pitch until Rusike struck close to the half-hour mark.
This game had been typical of a season opener for both sides before then – heavy legs, slow pace and wayward shots.
Neither team were sharp enough when the odd opportunity to take the lead presented itself.
But with Percy Tau, Khama Billiat, Sibusiso Vilakazi and Yannick Zakri leading the line for Sundowns, the hosts should have been slightly more potent in attack and more accurate with their attempts.
They looked even sharper when they were trailing, coach Pitso Mosimane deciding to bring on both his new boys in former Orlando Pirates captain Manyisa and George Lebese, who arrived from Kaizer Chiefs on Thursday.
Maritzburg held on, however – parking the bus if you like, and who can blame them, given what was thrown at them so late into the encounter.
Their coach Fadlu Davids, now finally permanently at the helm after several impressive stints as caretaker, cautiously set up his stall to guarantee victory.
He, too, had an ace up his sleeve – although it was a defensive tactic – when Siyanda Xulu, another arrival from Chiefs and also a former Sundowns star, was called on to help keep the aggressive Brazilians at bay.
Davids will earner further praise from fans, neutrals and his bosses after this win, which brings him closer to achieving one of his ambitions mandates, an objective set before him by the club when he was appointed two months ago.
Davids has been asked to finish in the top eight during the 2017/18 season and reach one cup final.
Given the way Maritzburg approached this game against the African champions, it might just be attainable.
MTN8 Semi-Final Line-Up (over two legs)
Cape Town City v Wits
SuperSport United v Maritzburg United