CAPE TOWN - Champions Mamelodi Sundowns showed they will remain the team to beat in this season’s DStv Premiership following a comfortable 2-0 victory over Kaizer Chiefs at Loftus Versveld.
The Brazilians may have endured a week where the harmony in the camp, and particularly the relationship of their three coaches were placed under scrutiny, but they remain a potent outfit when the serious business on the field gets underway.
Chiefs may have opened up their cheque book and splurged on a whole new group of players, including former Sundowns talisman Keagan Dolley in a bid to unseat the four-times successive champions, but it will take more than just money to get the better of the Brazilians.
The much-anticipated contest began in almost identical fashion to when these two giants of South African football met previously in the MTN8 quarter-final a month ago.
Lyle Lakay’s cultured left-foot was once again the provider, with the former Capetonian delivering another inch-perfect free-kick to the far post. Only this time it was not Peter Shalulile that out-jumped the Kaizer Chiefs defence but rather new man Grant Kekana.
Chiefs coach Stuart Baxter would no doubt have been furious in regards to how easily Kekana found space and then won the aerial battle to head the ball past Bruce Bvuma, especially the visitors had just a moments earlier missed a chance of their own when Keagan Dolly rifled his volley just over the bar with his weaker right foot.
Dolly, the former Sundowns talisman, was certainly intent though to leave his imprint on the contest, with the now Chiefs No 10 at the heart of every Amakhosi forward foray.
He created another opportunity when picking up a pass from Cole Alexander drove at the Sundowns box before unleashing a powerful left-footed drive that shaved the outside of a full-stretched Denis Onyango’s left post.
And when it was not him launching shots of his own at the Sundowns goal, he was setting up his teammates through some precise passing that found the big frame of Samir Nurkovic unmarked on two occasions in the Sundowns penalty area.
However, the Serbian was enduring a frustrating afternoon in the nation’s capital as he could not capitalise on any of the opportunities. Nurkovic’s headers were either going straight at Onyango, over the bar, or could not make contact at all like when Khama Billiat also played him with a deft back heel.
“The elephant is out of the room, old news. The talking is on the pitch, and the players did the talking.”— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) September 12, 2021
Rulani Mokwena delivered a resounding post-match interview in which he credited the team and support staff for their effort.#DStvPrem | #BabizeBonke pic.twitter.com/9B1a88qTGV
However, it was Onyango’s brilliant finger-tip save from a Billiat header in the second half that dented Chiefs’ morale.
And against a team with the quality and experience that Sundowns possess, it is almost suicidal to leave such gilt-edged chances on the table for they will come back and deliver the killer blow.
That’s exactly what transpired with ace marksman Peter Shalulile delivering the knockout punch shortly after the hour mark. The Namibian had a half-chance in the opening 45 minutes when his header from an Andile Jali cross was pushed wide, but he made no mistake with a tap-in from close range on the hour mark.
Chiefs’ misery on the night was compounded when substitute Lebogang Manyama struck a tame penalty in the 85th minute that left the visitors with plenty of questions to ponder over and lots to work on for the remainder of the season if they are to pose a serious title challenge.
“I think it was a good game for us coming back from the international break. You never know how it's going to go,” Sundowns’ Man of the Match Rushine de Reuck said.
“We knew they wanted to play on the counter. It was always going to be very tough, but we did our analysis. We knew which spaces. We prepared well and our defence didn’t give them a chance.”