Downs reach third cup final

2008-05-04 00:00

IT has not been a vintage season for Mamelodi Sundowns, but the country’s strongest club have reached their third cup final and stand a chance of a second trophy after their 1-0 Nedbank Cup semi-final win over AmaZulu at Olen Park in Potchefstroom yesterday.

Sundowns will meet surprise package Mpumalanga Black Aces in the season-ending final, the first Division team having shocked Free State Stars in their semi-final at the Super Stadium in Atteridgeville on Saturday.

Yesterday a fired-up AmaZulu often dominated play, but lacked punch in the final third, where they clearly missed the presence of first-choice strike partnership Dumisani Ngwenya and Siyabonga Mkhwanazi. Both strikers picked up injuries on the eve of yesterday’s semi, won by Sundowns thanks to the solitary 66th-minute goal blasted in by midfielder Esrom Nyandoro.

“They’ve been scoring all our goals,” AmaZulu coach Clive Barker lamented of the absence of his key strikers, who had scored 11 goals between them in the competition. “If we had a little more firepower we could have taken this one.”

In the absence of Ngwenya and Mkhwanazi, Mpho Maleka led the line and was a threatening presence alongside 42-year-old Shoes Moshoeu, who ran his legs off, but looked out of place outside of his normal midfield playmaker position. Maleka also missed a sitter when he was through in a one-on-one with Downs goalkeeper Brian Baloyi in the 58th minute.

Eight minutes later Nyandoro, receiving the ball just outside the area from Surprise Moriri, blasted in a shot that flew in off the outstretched hand of diving ‘keeper Kalilo Kakonje.

Man-of-the match Nyandoro said it was a tough game for Sundowns. “They closed us down and didn’t give us space to play our normal passing game.”

Downs caretaker coach Trott Moloto now stands a chance of guiding a team to a cup trophy for a second time, having won the Coca-Cola Cup with Umtata Bucks in 1996.

“I hate playing against teams like Mpumalanga. At least against a PSL team you know what to expect. You cannot get enough information from watching Aces in one semi-final,” Moloto said of the final.

The first half was a tight affair with a half-chance to Sundowns when Josta Dladla just could not reach Lerato Chabangu’s weighted pass in from the left. In the 38th minute AmaZulu midfielder Mohammed-Awal Issah dispossessed Nyandoro in midfield and, after a one-two with Maleka squirted into the area off the legs of Michael Manzini, shot wide.

AmaZulu received a further blow to their chances when influential defensive midfielder Bafo Biyela did not return from the break due to an injury, and was replaced by inexperienced Nhlakanipho Mkhize. Maleka’s shot saved by Baloyi was a turning point, and Nyandoro’s winner took the wind out of Usuthu’s sails, with Peter Ndlovu forcing an excellent stop from Kakonje near the end.

Defending Premier Soccer League champions Sundowns have not had their best season, firing coach Gordon Igesund in February when the team were in 12th, despite having won the SAA Supa 8 in September with a 1-0 final win over Orlando Pirates, and reaching the Telkom Knockout final, where Downs lost on penalties to Kaizer Chiefs. Under Moloto they have risen to fourth in the league and stand an outside chance of finishing runners-up.

On Saturday, Aces became the first team from the First Division to reach the Nedbank Cup final, thanks to a 60th-minute volley by former Maritzburg United forward Kabamba Musasa.

Stars had defender Kambamba Chintu sent off in the 77th minute for a reckless challenge just outside his own area, in a match played in driving rain.

Nedbank Cup Semi-finals

Saturday: Mpumalanga Black Aces 1 Free State Stars 0

Yesterday: AmaZulu 0 Mamelodi Sundowns 1

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