Ubuntu Cape Town’s fairy tale run in the Nedbank Cup came to an end after they were defeated 4-2 on penalties by Free State Stars in a quarter-final tie at the Athlone Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Earlier, the match ended 1-1 after 120 minutes of football.
It was only fitting that Stars goalkeeper Thela Ngobeni emerged as the hero during the penalty shoot-out after he saved the spot-kicks of Duncan Adonis and Dillion Goss. Ngobeni, in fact, was the main reason why the Free Staters have won through to the semi-finals of the competition – he was brilliant during the match as he often single-handedly kept his team in the game in the face of some relentless pressure from a plucky Ubuntu team.
National First Division side Ubuntu have now been eliminated from the event, but they have certainly made their mark. On Saturday, they were enterprising and courageous throughout, and they exit the competition with their heads held high.
Ubuntu made their intentions clear by performing with frightening intensity in the opening 30 minutes.
The poor Free Staters were visibly shell-shocked by the energy and commitment of the NFD side in that opening period. Ubuntu played with abandon in attack and, when Stars had the ball, they swarmed all over the man in possession.
It was an impressive opening from Ubuntu and you would have been hard-pressed to say the Capetonians were struggling at the basement of the NFD, while the opposition was riding high on the PSL standings.
With Ubuntu showing superb smarts in attack, they missed two early opportunities. First, Kamohelo Mahlatsi fashioned an opening in the penalty area and it needed a quick reflex save from Ngobeni to deny the attacker on loan to Ubuntu from SuperSport United. Soon after, after yet another swift offensive move, Clint Fredericks was at the end of a delightful cross, but he glanced his header agonisingly wide.
With the Cape side piling on the pressure, something had to give, though, and it did when captain Temptation Chiwungu floated in a free-kick, Gerome Heutchou-Kuilong headed down at the far post, and Taahir Ganga was at hand to head in and give Ubuntu a well-deserved 1-0 lead in the 28th minute.
But, and this is probably because of the youthful team’s inexperience, after scoring they took the foot off the pedal. They dropped the intensity with which they had started and, as expected, they paid the price. Stars were able to get back into the game and start playing again – and, with one minute to go to the half-time break, Ubuntu lost focus and allowed Goodman Dlamini far too much space, and the midfielder cracked a fierce shot that thundered into the back of the net.
With the score at 1-1 and everything to play for, Stars finally exercised their PSL superiority by taking control of proceedings in the second half. The Cape side, though, still gave as good as they got, especially on the counter, as they continued to work very hard for each other.
The Free State team had numerous opportunities, with Sinethemba Jantjie, Siphelele Mthembu and Nhlanhla Vilakazi all going close, and Ubuntu goalkeeper Malcolm Jacobs a very busy man in the second half. Ubuntu were under siege in the closing stages as Stars looked to find a winner, but the Capetonians hung on courageously to take the game into the extra-time period.
With both teams tiring during the extra 30 minutes, Ubuntu appeared to find a second wind and should really have gone on to win the game, but Ngobeni pulled off two superb saves to deny Goss and Fredericks, and Waseem Isaacs missed an easy chance from inside the five-yard area.
At the other end, just before the end of the 120 minutes, Stars could also have won the game, but Belgian Maxime Cosse had an attempt cleared off the goal-line and Mthembu missed a sitter from right in front. And so, with neither team able to find the winner, the match was decided by the lottery of a penalty shoot-out.