Cape Town - Mamelodi Sundowns were left reeling after losing their unbeaten record to an answered Messi-like goal by AmaZulu's Augustine Mulenga at the Jonsson Kings Park Stadium, Durban, on Monday evening.
Manqoba Mngqithi, the Sundowns co-coach, said there an eerie silence in the dressing room as the players battled to come to terms with their fate. The 1-0 defeat spelt the end of a 17-match unbeaten run.
"I am sure the players are hurting," said Mngqithi. "The changing room is not the same because we are not used to losing matches. Not even a friendly match, for that matter.
"We always go all out, even during training. We are a team that always wants to win everything from a training session up until the match.
"Now that we have lost maybe it will have some positive spin-off. The anger of losing the match might give us a little bit more impetuous to go into the next match and put up a little bit more of a fight."
AmaZulu go 1-0 up 👀— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) December 20, 2021
Augustine Mulenga scores after being subbed on just seconds earlier. Are Sundowns about to lose their first match of the season?
📺 Stream #DStvPrem live: https://t.co/0BMWdeEYT3 pic.twitter.com/7ncQFUNymc
Afterwards, AmaZulu's triumphant coach Benni McCarthy was as pleased as punch, sporting a grin as wide as the Grand Canyon. He said the goal by Zambian international Mulenga had the hallmark of class acts like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
"The finish was just unbelievable," said McCarthy. "I think if (Lionel) Messi, (Cristiano) Ronaldo, (Kylian) Mbappe or Neymar finishes that, people will talk about it for a long time.
"It was a well-worked goal and worthy for us to go into the lead because I think we created. We had the better moments in the game up until that point."
Denis Onyango was doing everything he could in stoppage time to try and find a late equaliser against AmaZulu 🤏— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) December 20, 2021
It's the first time Sundowns have lost an away match since August last year. pic.twitter.com/UPc8N4LBz9
The 31-year-old Mulenga scored the game's only goal in the 75th minute after joining the fray as a substitute. He finished off an attack with great aplomb after AmaZulu launched an attack from deep inside their half down the left channel. Mulenga's play off the ball was superb as he ran on to a defence-splitting feed from Luvuyo Memela before sidefooting the ball past Sundowns’ goalkeeper Denis Onyango.
McCarthy said he was relying on Mulenga's pace to unsettle Sundowns' defence and create openings. He added that Bongi Ntuli and Mulenga had given him hope that they could make a breakthrough.
"Ntuli was exceptional with his hold-up play and he gave us depth," said McCarthy. "He really held the ball up nicely and waited for support. We found a lot of joy from Ntuli with the game that he was playing.
"Once we saw that he had his run his race, and he had been superb for the team, we thought the change was imminent. We thought it was better to go for someone with speed and trickery because their defenders were tired.
"Ntuli really dragged them all over the pitch and he was a handful. By the time Mulenga came in, the game was very open because Sundowns were pushing for that all-important goal.
"We knew that with the pace Mulenga can provide, he can get in and if he gets into a sprint race with (Ricardo) Nascimento or (Rushine) De Reuck, he has the fresher legs and use his speed. That's the way it happened."
Sundowns and AmaZulu are both in action again on Thursday and play their final games for 2021. Sundowns host Marumo Gallants at Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria, at 5.30pm and AmaZulu are away to Orlando Pirates at Orlando Stadium, Soweto, at 7.30pm.