Ajax Cape Town players slumped to the ground in unison — many of them in tears — after drawing 2-2 with Golden Arrows at the King Zwelithini Stadium in Durban on Sunday afternoon, failing to score the winning goal that would have earned them the Premier Soccer League (PSL) championship.
And, after a tense and dramatic, but largely mediocre, finale to the title race in which eventual champions SuperSport United looked more like relegation candidates while going down 2-1 to Bloemfontein Celtic, Ajax chairperson John Comitis maintained to the bitter end that his team had been ”robbed” of the championship by a diabolical refereeing blunder in their penultimate drawn game against Santos.
”Had we not been deprived by the referee of a perfectly legitimate winning goal against Santos,” said Comitis, ”we would now be R5-million richer — and celebrating as PSL champions.”
Be that as it may — and with a supreme challenge facing them at the King Zwelithini Stadium — Ajax only sporadically showed the character and resolution of champions after trailing 2-0 following a hesitant, stuttering opening two-thirds of the game.
Ajax began as though shell-shocked and it came as no surprise when Arrows deservedly opened the score in the 43rd minute through a well-placed ground shot from Richard Henyenekane that eluded the groping fingers of goalkeeper Hans Vonk.
Arrows continued to look the more polished and poised combination in the second period, with Kagiso Senamele’s piledriver in the 58th minute making the score 2-0 and seemingly sealing the outcome in the Durban team’s favour.
But Arrows made the cardinal mistake of relaxing, with some of the players brazenly show-boating in front of the small crowd.
Ajax came alive after being awarded a 72nd-minute penalty, with Bageta Dikilu reducing the deficit with a spot kick — and, in the process, arousing the ”Urban Warriors” into belated action.
A scorching 20m shot from substitute Russell Mwafulirwa in the 85th minute produced the equalising goal and prompted a rousing climax to the proceedings — and Ajax failed to make use of three inviting opportunities of scoring the all-important winning goal in the final five minutes.
Down but certainly not out
At the Seisa Ramabodou Stadium, SuperSport United came into the game needing a draw to secure the championship.
They spent the better part of the match, especially the first half, contriving to lose not only the game but the league title as well. First they succumbed to the partisan Bloemfontein crowd that had packed the stadium and then watched Celtic running at will and even take a 2-0 lead.
Celtic played with intent and didn’t look like a team that would do United a favour by lying down and handing the title to their foes.
The opening goal came from a lapse in the United defence that saw Moses Spandeel slip through, dribble United goalkeeper Andre Arendse and strike a thunderous shot that came off the crossbar and was judged to have crossed the line by the assistant referee in the 17th minute.
Celtic continued to press forward throughout the first half and came agonisingly close on numerous occasions but were let down by the final touch or poor decision making in front of goal.
Spandeel, Celtic’s lone striker, was again given space by the United defence in the 43rd minute and he nudged the ball past Arendse, but United defender Siboniso Gaxa cleared the ball.
Moments later and with Celtic still on attack, Spandeel found himself unmarked in the box and unleashed another thunderous shot that Arendse watched sail into the back of the net.
In the second half, United came out fighting but they lacked direction and command in the middle of the park.
The break through eventually came on the hour mark when winger Tsietsi Mahoa’s cross found the head of United striker Tefera Fikru who caressed the ball into the net.
With a draw in sight, United pushed more bodies ahead and they could have levelled matters four minutes from time, but Fikru missed a sitter from a slight angle.
With that the game was gone, but United had done enough in their previous outings this season to be crowned champions, for the first time as well. — Sapa