Superb Downs outclass Chiefs

2009-12-21 00:00

PRETORIA neighbours Mamelodi Sundowns and SuperSport United are set for the titanic contest of the season tomorrow at Loftus after both leading contenders for the Premier Soccer League title won matches on Saturday.

SuperSport dispatched second-last Mpumalanga Black Aces on Saturday night in customarily clinical fashion with a 3-0 victory to remain six points clear of Sundowns at the top of the log.

At Moses Mabhida Stadium, Sundowns were too determined, too strong and too well organised for an equally intent Kaizer Chiefs to overcome, as Downs won 2-1 in a match that both sides needed a victory in to remain in realistic title contention.

The Brazilians have a game in hand on SuperSport, which means that if Sundowns win tomorrow night they will be three winnable points adrift of the defending champions.

On Saturday, Sundowns looked every bit championship material.

There were question marks over the coaching credentials of Hristo Stoichkov, one of the world’s best players in the 1990s for Barcelona and Bulgaria, when he signed on for Downs. There shouldn’t have been.

Anyone who has played at the highest pinnacle of the top level, and who rivaled Romario and Gheorghe Hagi as the best players of the 1994 USA World Cup, must know how to coach.

Sundowns flexed their muscle against Chiefs. Stoichkov’s settled line-up this season has revolved around ball-winners Esrom Nyandoro and Matthew Pattison in midfield and a front-line of PSL top-scorer Katlego Mphela, Mabhudi Khenyeza and Elias Pelembe that on Saturday was bolstered by no mean attacker in Franklin Cale from Ajax Cape Town.

The Bulgarian has not been afraid to throw in the youngsters such as Siyanda Xulu in defence, alongside the likes of Siboniso Gaxa and Innocent Mdledle.

It was all too much for Chiefs. Hard as Amakhosi tried in front of a large contingent of their passionate fans, and as well as Serbian coach Vladimir Vermezovic has done with a squad that does not have the depth of SuperSport and Sundowns, in the end Chiefs were outclassed.

Mphela opened the scoring in the 34th minute after intercepting a stray back-pass from Amakhosi left-back Tlou Molekwane. Josta Dladla equalised from the penalty spot after Luvhengo Mungomeni was incorrectly adjudged to have handballed.

Xulu scrambled in Sundowns’ winner from close range after Pelembe’s free-kick in from the left was not cleared.

“I have great respect for Kaizer Chiefs,” Stoichkov said after the game. “Vladimir played in Spain — he understands European football. Kaizer Chiefs play very good football.

“But this is part of soccer and I am happy that my team could win. It was a very important three points for the future.”

The Downs coach had unsuccessfully appealed to have the SuperSport game postponed, but said he believes his players can raise themselves for the potential league decider despite having come through a gruelling schedule.

“I don’t have too much time to prepare my players — only a Monday training session. But the big players pick up the big games. These are the big games, today [Saturday] and then on Tuesday. SuperSport is one more game. I believe in my players and in my staff.”

Vermezovic admitted Chiefs will now have to rely on other teams’ results to win the league.

“We have seven games in front of us and the next one against AmaZulu on Wednesday is the most important. We want to enter the holidays with a win and staying in the top part of the league.

“I congratulate my players for fighting today. But sometimes in big games it is not enough to fight — to be champions of a league you must have experience and know how to play games like this. But for us it was a lesson and we must keep going.

“Nothing is over with one game. We have games in front of us and anything is possible. But a lot of things must go our way. It’s not just our results any more — it depends on the results of other clubs.

“Our ambition is to stay as high as possible this year.”

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