The little magician, Percy Tau, weaved his magic wand on Monday night at Goble Park, hypnotising Free State Stars to give Mamelodi Sundowns a morale-boosting 2-1 Absa Premiership victory ahead of their Caf Champions League title defence on Sunday.
The 23-year-old forward came from the bench and led the Brazilians to a comfortable win over a team who have become their daily bread, stretching their winning streak over Stars to 11.
Pitso Mosimane went into this match with one eye on the crucial first leg Champions League clash with Tunisia’s Wydad Casablanca on Sunday at Lucas Moripe.
Mosimane didn’t start with any of the players who were on international duty. Tau and Denis Onyango started on the bench, while Hlompho Kekana and Themba Zwane were on the stands.
Tebogo Langerman and Kennedy Mweene didn’t even travel with the team.
That stance showed the club’s depth even though their defence, led by Ghanaian goalkeeper Razak Brimah – who was making his debut – was shaky at first.
But once they clicked, they easily closed down Ea Lla Koto. Stars’ defence looked solid, a sign that coach Luc Eymael is slowly instilling his style in the team after taking over from Sammy Troughton.
The Belgian coach did the same thing when he took over from Polokwane City. He strengthened their porous defence to a unit that’s hard to penetrate, and then worked on their attack to lay the foundation that saw Rise and Shine finish in the top eight for the first time in the club’s history.
Stars’ defence, solid as they were, couldn’t contain Tau, though.
The Bafana Bafana international came on just before the half-hour mark to replace an injured Anthony Laffor and whizzed between a sea of red defenders, who could only stop him illegally.
Tau dusted himself and scored a stunning free-kick to put the African champions ahead in the 44th minute.
As if to prove that wasn’t a fluke, he completed a brace with an even better goal – a thunderbolt he unleashed outside the box after pick-pocketing the ball on the hour-mark.
Tau brought more attacking impetus to Sundowns after his introduction. Leonardo Castro, on the other hand, continued to look like a shadow of the deadly Colombian forward who rattled the net with ease in the Brazilians’ march to win the league two seasons ago.
Castro’s slump, along with Sundowns struggling to find a marksman who can lead their attack, limits the Brazilians’ attack.
But the abundance of skilful players they have on their roster makes up for that.
In the absence of an imposing point of reference upfront, Sundowns hurt their opponents by their skilful players who take teams head-on.
That approach makes Tau able to shine at Sundowns. The lad from Witbank is brave, taking on defenders with confidence, and he doesn’t drop his head when he misses as he knows that he will put the ball in the back of the net eventually.
The only thing missing in his arsenal is shortening the time between his attempts to score and eventually putting the ball of the net.
If he does that, he will be a world-class player who would be easily snapped by clubs in Europe to further his career.
Nhlanhla Vilakazi gave Stars a consolation goal in the last minute of the match.
The focus for Sundowns now shifts to Wydad Casablanca, whom they host on Sunday before travelling to Tunisia a week later, looking to book a place in the last four.