Mamelodi Sundowns dismiss Kaizer Chiefs at Orlando to draw level in title race
Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs may be level on points at the top of the Absa Premiership after Downs’ huge 1-0 victory on Thursday night‚ but the Brazilians will feel they now have an advantage in the title race.
And that even with Chiefs still on top on goal difference‚ as the Soweto and Pretoria giants are locked on 53 points each‚ making for a blockbuster finish over the next 10 days.
The fact that Chiefs once had a 13-point lead in December‚ and that Gaston Sirino’s 34th-minute strike earned a victory for Sundowns at Orlando Stadium that drew the Brazilians level with three matches remaining‚ speaks volumes on its own.
It confirms a fact‚ which is that Chiefs and their increasingly nervy coach Ernst Middendorp have been unconvincing and jittery in the second half of the season‚ and perhaps even more so in the return in the bio-bubble‚ and equally so in the 90 minutes on Thursday night.
It confirms a second fact‚ which is that the awesome player and coaching staff power that is Sundowns and their assured coach Pitso Mosimane have the momentum.
They also have trophy- and league title-clinching experience. They have better players. And being level on points with such a confident and awesome machine will not be a situation that will be easy to come back from for Chiefs as they desperately seek a title after four campaigns without a trophy in their 50th anniversary season.
How Chiefs must now rue spurned chances – as Downs returned flat from the five-month absence‚ and Amakhosi looked relatively sharp to start – to pull away in the bio-bubble.
Bizarre decisions in line-ups from Middendorp appeared to not help the Soweto giants in that effort.
There was another on Thursday‚ as the eccentric coach handing a first start to 17-year-old Keletso Sifama‚ who had previously made one substitute’s appearance‚ on the right wing in a match of this magnitude will surely be discussed in the post-mortems. The poor teen was ineffective and substituted off at the break.
Downs’ class was displayed in a convincing performance dismissing Chiefs in clinical fashion where there was always the sense that the defending champions had an extra gear to call on‚ and were only sporadically genuinely stretched by Amakhosi.
The first half did not go well for Chiefs. It was not that the leaders did not show signs of the class that had taken them to the top of the log. It was just that‚ once Sundowns settled‚ a gulf in class seemed apparent.
Chiefs landed some early punches with the awkward‚ quick‚ angle-grinder passing combinations that have troubled so many teams in 2019-20.
The best was when Lebogang Manyama produced a delivery through midfield that was threaded through a needle with perfection and artistry to set Bernard Parker down the left channel. The veteran‚ though‚ hesitated then opted to look for strike partner Lazarous Kambole when there was a golden opportunity to beat Kennedy Mweene.
Sundowns' winner was champagne. Themba Zwane received Rivaldo Coetzee's pass with his back to goal just outside the area and his backheel to feed Sirino through displayed a mesmeric understanding. The Uruguayan struck a confident finish past Daniel Akpeyi.
Middendorp's three changes from the break – Dumisani Zuma‚ Anthony Akumu and Khama Billiat for Sifama‚ Willard Katsande and Lazarous Kambole – indicated Chiefs' thinking in the initial line-up had not been spot on.
Sundowns happily played a deep frustrating game in the second half. Chiefs in response created chances‚ but without an instance where one felt Downs did not have the opportunity ultimately covered.
PODCAST | Kaitano Tembo watches with keen interest as Sundowns capitalise on Chiefs fumble