aces come up trumps

THE Mpumalanga town of Witbank was abuzz last night as football supporters celebrated when Mpumalanga Black Aces retained their Absa Premiership status.

THE Mpumalanga town of Witbank was abuzz last night as football supporters celebrated when Mpumalanga Black Aces retained their Absa Premiership status.

AmaZayoni beat Black Leopards 5-3 on penalties in the final of the National First Division playoffs at the city's Ackerville Stadium. People were seen dancing in and outside the stadium and in the nearby townships.

Aces' supporters are also said to have begun wild celebrations in Middelburg, Secunda, Kriel, Ogies, Verina and other parts of the province. Their jubilation was justified, considering Mpumalanga would not have had a Premiership team if Aces had faltered.

Leopards' failure has come as yet another disappointment to the people of Limpopo, who will have to do without a Premiership club again next season.

The R1million that was pledged by Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale failed to motivate Lidoda Duvha.

Leopards beat Aces 2-1 in the first leg at home and AmaZayoni managed to win by the same margin after regulation time yesterday.

The match went straight into a penalty shootout as there was no extra time.

Aces converted their penalties through Buti Sithole, Clifford Mulenga, Sandile Zuke, Rudiger Gilbert and Mpho Maleka.

Walter Ramulondi, Isaac Morobe and Rodney Ramakgalela struck for the visitors, while Patrick Mtawali, son of the legendary Malawian midfielder Ernest "Wire" Mtawali, failed to convert.

The game started 40 minutes late due to heavy rain.

Aces, who finished 15th in the Premiership this season, went on the attack in search of an early goal to unsettle the opposition. But Leopards were the first to rattle the net in the 10th minute courtesy of Khethokwakhe Masuku, whose thunderous shot gave Aces goalie Chad Harpur no chance.

AmaZayoni, inspired by their ever-singing supporters, equalised in the 61st minute through the inspirational Mulenga. Mulenga completed his brace in the 80th minute. Aces finished the match with 10 men after Vusi Masonda was sent off in the 65th minute.

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