Mabhudi is Ajax's hero

2008-12-14 00:00

IN a sign of the Premier Soccer League’s growing stature as a multi-billion rand industry, the fireworks after Ajax Cape Town’s 2-1 Telkom Knockout victory over Orlando Pirates on Saturday were perhaps the best seen following a cup final in South Africa.

However impressive they may have been, though, they did not come close to matching the advert for the PSL that was dished up on the field in the 90 minutes by two excellent teams in a final that verged on being a classic.

The final might stick in the memory for boosting the careers of several potential stars. Ajax striker Mabhudi Khenyeza’s goals in the 10th and 16th minutes stunned the Buccanneers, and all-round performance and sharpness caught the eye of Bafana Bafana assistant coach Pitso Mosimane.

Other players to impress Mosimane were Ajax left-wing Franklyn Cale and Pirates’ right-wing Dikgang Mabalane, who gave their marking full-backs — Bucs right-back Mahamutsa Rooi and Ajax left-back Brett Evans — a torrid evening.

But while these already established players appear to be maturing, one genuinely new star could have been born on the night. Former Maritzburg City striker Siphelele Mthembu, making his third substitutes’ appearance, registered his first goal as a Buccaneer.

Mthembu (20) has been at the centre of a controversial tug-of-war between Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs. After such a difficult period, he understandably looked quite ordinary in his first two Bucs appearances.

On Saturday night he gave a glimpse of what all the fuss was about. Receiving the ball inside the area four minutes after coming on, Mthembu turned Ajax defender Nazeer Allie and stabbed the ball home to give Pirates a scent of fighting back into the game in the 75th minute.

“Did you see how he finished that ball? He did not blast it, but picked his spot and slotted perfectly,” Mosimane raved.

On Khenyeza’s performance, who left Chiefs under a cloud at the end of last season, Mosimane said: “Mabhudi used to miss lots of chances, but he has improved since joining Ajax. He’s strong and runs tirelessly.”

Pirates coach Ruud Krol saw his team hit the woodwork three times as Ajax impressively absorbed pressure, while substitute Bennett Chenene missed a golden opportunity to equalise in the dying seconds after a desperate Bucs build-up. Afterwards Chenene was in tears.

“Chenene wanted to score the goal and then he showed his emotion,” Krol said. “We are obviously disappointed not to win the cup final, but now we have to move on and look to our next [league] match against Bloemfontein Celtic.”

Ajax coach Craig Rosslee also saw his career boosted by his first trophy as a coach. Rosslee took over as head coach from Muhsin Ertugral at the start of last season, and Ajax finished PSL runners-up to SuperSport United.

“My players have got their just reward for the way they have put in the hard work over the last few months. As the Pirates coach said, it goes on now and tomorrow [Sunday] we think about our next league match against Platinum Stars in Mmabatho,” Rosslee said.

Ajax opened the scoring when Cale sold an excellent dummy to beat Rooi on the left and Khenyeza, with his back to goal, touched the cross into the net with the side of his foot.

Six minutes later, Cale’s ball driven in from the left eluded the Pirates defence and was driven back in by Clayton Daniels at the far post for Khenyeza to finish from a metre out.

Mhlongo’s header and Mushangazhike’s cracking shot hit the post and Teko Modise’s half-volley was straight at goalkeeper Andre Petim before the break.

In the second half, Mabalane hit the upright for a third time for Bucs from a narrow angle.

The only person on the field who did not come to the party was referee Peter Mabuza, and it is a travesty that either Jerome Damon or Daniel Bennett was not appointed to the game. In the 88th minute Mabuza failed to award a free-kick to Ajax and red card goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs for clattering down Khenyeza, who was through on goal.

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