Triumph for Free State Stars' Khumalo

The long wait ended in a fairytale triumph for Walter Khumalo when Free State Stars’ veteran goalkeeper came off eight months on the bench to instigate a tense and taut Nedbank Cup penalty shoot-out victory against Platinum Stars at Goble Park in Bethlehem on Sunday afternoon.

The perennial understudy to Zambian international goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene brought off two instinctive saves in the penalty shoot-out, in his first game of the season, to give Free State Stars a rain-spattered 4-3 penalty win after the teams had finished level 1-1 after extra-time.

What was generally an uninspiring and drab game burst into ugly controversy in extra-time when Free State Stars were gifted a penalty for no apparent reason—with the entire Platinum Stars contingent on the field and on the bench spitting fire over the decision.

Justice, it seemed, was done when Diyo Sibisi’s spot-kick hit the post and bounced clear—but, ironically, penalties in the form of the shoot-out were ultimately to prove the avenue by which Free State Stars qualified for the last round of the tournament.

The match consisted of two contrasting spells of ascendancy, with Nigerian Prince Olomu opening the score for Free State Stars in an opening half in which they dominated the proceedings.

But an opportunist, close-range equaliser from South American import Luis Renteria on the stroke of half-time changed the pattern of the game, with Platinum Stars taking control for much of the second period and again in extra-time.

The game sagged like a punctured balloon in the later stages as both teams played a furtive brand of soccer and concentrated more on not conceeding goals than scoring them.

The penalty award to Free State Stars acted like a sudden burst of thunder from the overcast skies, with emotions running high from this point until the time Khumalo left the pitch a hero, with teammates, officials and supporters all milling round the goalkeeper to offer their congratulations. - Sapa


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