Nurkovic to the double as the Chiefs train gathers momentum with Sundowns win
CAPE TOWN – Kaizer Chiefs extended their lead at the top of the table to five points and underlined their growing status as potential league winners with a 2-0 win over defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns in a humdinger of a game at Loftus Versfeld on Sunday afternoon.
On the balance of play, Masandawana, who remain second on the standings, had plenty of scoring opportunities and may feel hard-done-by not to have taken anything from the match.
But it was also to Chiefs' credit that they showed great tenacity, determination and concentration in defending their early lead – following Samir Nurkovic's sixth minute strike, before the Serbian put the game to bed with his second goal in the 77th minute.
The match started 15 minutes late in order to allow fans to get into the stadium and when it did begin, proceedings got off to a very lively start, with the atmosphere in the stands electric.
And after just five minutes played Chiefs fans were celebrating when Reeve Frosler put in a cross towards Leonardo Castro, who may have got the faintest of touches with his head before the ball reached Nurkovic at the far post, where he bundled it over the line from a metre out.
The goal, however, carried controversy – because if Castro had indeed made contact with the ball, and the replays were inconclusive, then Nurkovic would have been off-sides.
Sundowns responded immediately by mounting a number of attacks of their own, with Jose Meza having a good chance in the 12th minute after he beat three defenders, but his shot was hit straight at Amakhosi keeper Daniel Akpeyi.
The pace of the game was relentless and chances continued to arrive at both ends of the field – for Sundowns, Sibusiso Vilakazi fired over the bar and Andile Jali had a shot saved by Akpeyi, while for Chiefs, George Maluleka – on for the injured Frosler, fired a well-struck shot at Mweene in the 36th minute.
It was the Brazilians, though, who ended the first half on top as Motjeka Madisha went close with a glancing header in the 42nd minute before Jali missed a sitter in added time when he curled the ball over the bar from only seven metres out after Vilakazi had picked him out at the back post.
The Tshwane side kept the heat on the Chiefs defence after the restart and Akpeyi had to react sharply to tip Meza's snap shot over the bar before also saving Mauricio Affonso's low shot.
Affonso, on for Vilakazi after the break, then looked set to equalise when he arrived at the far post in the 57th minute to get onto to Meza's cross, but a brilliant last gasp tackle by Njabulo Blom denied him a goal.
The Uruguayan marksman then sent a header wide 10 minutes later as Downs continued to ask questions of the visitors' defence.
Chiefs badly needed a second goal to ease the pressure and that's what happened in the 77th minute when Dumisani Zuma beat Madisha down the wing before pulling the ball back for Khama Billiat, whose touch set up Nurkovic to fire home powerfully from 10-yards out.
The Serbian nearly completed his hat-trick three minutes later when he stole into the box and beat Mweene to an aerial ball, but his header flashed just over an unguarded net.
There were more chances for the Pretoria team in the dying minutes of the match, including a goal-line clearance by Blom to deny Affonso again. But 2-0 to Chiefs was how it remained as the Brazilians – who recently lost 4-2 to Amakhosi in the Shell Helix Ultra Cup, suffered their first league defeat of the season.
African News Agency (ANA)