Mehlokazulu are Maritzburg’s best for two years running

2014-05-07 00:00

JUST three nights after the mighty Orlando Pirates stamped their authority all over Harry Gwala Stadium in the semi-finals of the Nedbank Cup, Mehlokazulu Secondary had their time to celebrate on the PSL pitch when they were crowned champions of the 2014 Nashua Maritzburg United High Schools Soccer Challenge under the floodlights yesterday.

Mehlo defeated Sobantu Secondary 3-1 in last night’s final, thanks to two goals and an assist from striker Njabulo Shezi, as they lifted the tournament for the second time in as many years.

The occasion clearly meant the world to all 22 players on the pitch, and the elevated pace and intensity that accompanied the first half was indicative of this. Both sides moved the ball around swiftly, but there wasn’t enough composure in either final third as the sides went into the break deadlocked at 0-0.

Sobantu’s back four had been dealing with Mehlo’s physicality with aplomb up until that point, and Vuyani Dladla in goal had proved his worth with a couple of fine saves.

But in the second half things went south for the underdogs.

Both sides got slower as the game went on, due largely to the fact that they had exhausted much of their energy in the frantic first period, and once that happened Mehlo were able to keep the ball for longer periods.

Sobantu’s back four went to pieces, and a long ball from the Mehlo half sent Shezi on his way to his first goal when he slotted calmly past Dladla to make it 1-0.

The second goal was far more impressive as Shezi broke down the left before squaring the ball to Sbongiseni Dlamini, who rifled the ball past Dladla.

At 2-0, it was Mehlo’s tournament to lose.

But when Nkosinathi Mahlase was shown a second yellow card for time wasting, Mehlo were reduced to 10 men and Sobantu were given a sniff.

In the semi-finals, Sobantu had scored two goals in the final five minutes to overcome Alexandra High, and they had the ascendency in the game’s closing stages to suggest they might do the same last night. But with players thrown forward, Sobantu were vulnerable at the back and Shezi capitalised in the final minutes to put the game beyond doubt to make it 3-1.

The tournament, in its second year, was expanded from eight to 16 teams in 2014 and there are plans for it to grow even more next year.

“I am thrilled for the kids, they were so excited to play this game,” Mehlo coach Du Zaca told The Witness after the match. “All of the teams played really well. It was a really tough yet fantastic tournament.”

On his side’s second tournament win in a row, Zaca was unsurprised.

“I knew we were going to win this match,” he said. “We play as a team and we wanted to defend our title very much.”

In yesterday’s 3rd/4th place play-off, which also took place at Harry Gwala, Alexandra defeated Carter High School 5-4 on penalties after the match had ended 1-1.

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