Supersport are PSL champions

2008-05-18 00:00

IN one of the closest and most dramatic finales of a South African season, SuperSport United yesterday won their first Premier Soccer League title despite losing their final game 2-1 to Bloemfontein Celtic at Seisa Ramabodu Stadium.

While twice runners-up SuperSport were celebrating the club’s first league title, in Umlazi Ajax Cape Town’s players collapsed to the ground in dismay. Having fought back from 2-0 down to 2-2 with five minutes to go, Ajax could not produce a winner that would have taken the trophy and R10-million first prize to the Cape.

After 240 games and 532 goals, the league was decided in its final five minutes, and by a single goal. One goal was what both SuperSport and Ajax needed after Russell Mwafulirwa had equalised in the 85th minute of the Capetonians’ fightback.

This meant that, provided the SuperSport score remained 2-1, Ajax needed to score once more to be level with the Pretoria team on 54 points, and win the league on goal difference. Having fought back from 2-0 down to 2-1, SuperSport also had to score once more to draw against Celtic and finish champions on 55 points.

In the end, neither title challenger could score again, and Ajax’s draw was not enough to catch even a defeated SuperSport.

The thrilling finish was almost as gripping at the bottom, where Thanda Royal Zulu scored in the 90th minute to beat Jomo Cosmos in Hammarsdale and avoid the relegation play-offs.

Had Thanda drawn, Black Leopards would have needed to score once more in their 1-0 victory against 10-man Kaizer Chiefs to avoid the play-offs. Chiefs had goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune sent off in the 17th minute.

In mid-table, Orlando Pirates beat AmaZulu 4-1 to sneak into the top eight. Free State Stars thrashed Mamelodi Sundowns 4-0, and the defending PSL champions finished fourth.

This dramatic finish was a fitting end to a season in which the PSL, boosted by the R1,6-billion SuperSport International TV rights deal and R500 million Absa sponsorship, has shown signs of emerging from a long slump.

It has been a good year for SuperSport International, first beating the SABC for the rights to the PSL, then transforming coverage of the league and making the PSL sexy again, and finally competitive for viewership with the English Premier League. It seems apt that now the team owned by the pay-channel has won the league.

To add to the drama of the PSL’s “Super Sunday”, TV replays showed that Celtic’s first goal by Moses Spandeel in the 20th minute had clearly not crossed the line having ricocheted off the crossbar.

This could have been even more controversial had the decision robbed SuperSport of the title.

Spandeel’s opener had come after being fed by a ball over the top by Petrus Mahlatsi, the striker rounding goalkeeper Andre Arendse and his shot cannoning off the underside of the crossbar.

A nervy SuperSport were in disarray, as Arendse almost headed a backpass into his own net, and Siboniso Gaxa had to clear after Spandeel again beat Arendse in the 42nd minute.

A minute later, SuperSport’s tormentor did make it 2-0, Spandeel coolly side-footing past Arendse after being fed by a Patrick Malokase backheel.

SuperSport pulled a goal back in the 61st minute, Fikru Tefera heading in Tsietsi Mahoa’s cross from the left. The desperate visitors dominated the second half but could not achieve the crucial breakthrough.

Yesterday: Lamontville Golden Arrows 2 Ajax Cape Town 2, Bloemfontein Celtic 2 Supersport United 1, Thanda Royal Zulu 1 Jomo Cosmos 0, Orlando Pirates 4 AmaZulu 1, Moroka Swallows 0 Wits University 0, Mamelodi Sundowns 0 Free State Stars 4, Santos 1 Platinum Stars 0, Black Leopards 1 Kaizer Chiefs 0.

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