Sundowns shine in the rain

Those in Pretoria might have ignored the inclement weather in massive numbers to pay homage to the triumphant Springbok rugby players, but Mamelodi Sundowns’ recent sketchy form was enough to keep the fans indoors on Friday night as the Premier Soccer League (PSL) champions regained much of their poise and form in beating Thanda Royal Zulu 3-1 to qualify for the semifinals of the Telkom Knockout competition.

Ironically, under the circumstances, it proved a case of Sundowns shining in the rain after successive defeats against SC Sfaxien of Tunisia in Caf’s Confederation Cup and Golden Arrows in a deflating PSL championship encounter.

And no one looked sharper than unpredictable striker Lerato Chabangu, who scored stunning goals with left-footed scorchers at each end of the first half, which spring-boarded the Brazilians a long way towards sealing victory.

Then after burly Ivorian striker Serge Djiehoua caught Brian Baloyi napping in Sundowns’ goal on the stroke of half-time to reduce the deficit and provide Royal Zulu with the impetus to come back into the picture. Peter Ndlovu’s opportunist 48th-minute goal effectively snuffed out the prospect of a revival by the Durban team.

More positive and workmanlike than they have been for some time, Sundowns inexplicably closed shop in the last 30 minutes and effectively played out time when the small 2 000 crowd were eagerly anticipating a goal glut.

And Royal Zulu, who held Sundowns to a 2-2 draw in a PSL clash earlier in the season, rarely looked like repeating the feat.

Lance Nieuwenhuis in Royal Zulu’s goal thwarted the prospect of a Chabangu hat-trick with an instinctive save in the 62nd minute before the game went to sleep.

Yet overall, in what were trying conditions, both sides demonstrated neat touches and provided a higher level of play than has been apparent in the PSL this season.

“We played well enough,” commented Royal Zulu’s Swedish coach Roger Palgrem, “but paid dearly for a couple of defensive errors.

“Still,” he conceded, “Sundowns were the better team and I have no problems with them winning.”—Sapa


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