Mamelodi Sundowns showcased champions mentality against Cape Town City in their PSL opener, earning a 2-0 victory as the 2022/23 season kicked off on Friday.
As it happened | Cape Town City v Mamelodi Sundowns
No less than 20 000 fans flocked to Cape Town Stadium with enthusiasm as top-flight football returned, with last season's champions and runners-up giving spectators an entertaining contest under the floodlights.
Downs were the first to enforce the press as the whistle sounded, pushing yellow shirts forward with their 3-4-3 formation that did not bother City in the early stages.
City fast man Craig Martin was the one to make the home side's intent felt as he put in hard sliding tackles, but referee Thando Ndzanzeka showed him an early yellow card to lay down the law.
With it being the first match of the season, there were signs of much-needed fine-tuning from Sundowns and City, as mistakes along with the lack of fluidity were present on the night.
Cape Town-born midfielder Haashim Domingo had the first real chance for the Brazilians in the penalty area, but his effort went over the crossbar.
City awoke and responded as Mduduzi Mdantsane latched onto the ball from a lineout and forced it out wide to Khanyisa Mayo, whose pace got the better of Aubrey Modiba. The jovial Mayo then put through a low cross with an incoming Martin storming forward, only for his header to go wide of the target.
The crowd, who yearned for an opening goal, got behind the players, but nothing went beyond the goalline as Modiba's quick-thinking assist over the City defence found Domingo. He acrobatically attempted to chip Hugo Marques but floated over the bar.
As half-time approached, City would get two goalscoring opportunities with Martin again failing to direct his header towards goal following another perfect Mayo cross.
After that, Mdantsane did not pounce on a Sundowns defensive slip up, as Darwin Gonzeales was beside him in a two versus one situation as Brian Onyango brushed the City midfielder off the ball bring a stop the attack.
Peter Shalulile, who had a quiet first half, could not latch on to a Khuliso Mudau through ball in a counterattacking move that needed a perfect first touch. However, minutes later, the Namibian came even closer to scoring.
The forward dazzled his way past the City defence to meet a through ball, which he laced with power, only for Marques to make a fine save.
Sundowns began to show more of their championship-winning character as the second stanza progressed, passing the ball around with comfort despite the terrible Cape surface.
Their first goal, however, would come from a spectacular dead-ball situation.
The 2021/22 Goalkeeper of the Season Marques would eventually lose his desired clean sheet through a stunning 18-yard left-footed free-kick from Aubrey Modiba in the top left corner to give Sundowns the lead.
Captain Themba Zwane would double that lead less than two minutes later, beating the offside trap and Marques to the ball as he tapped it beyond the goalkeeper's reach into the net.
Coach Eric Tinkler responded with a change, bringing on seasoned defender Taariq Fielies for Mdu Mdantsane, shifting to a defensive back three.
The Sundowns bench would do the same, but an injury-enforced substitution with Mudau coming off and Thapelo Morena getting a taste of the game.
City looked sluggish defensively as Sundowns upped the ante, showing true to their nature how to use the home side's press to their advantage with counterattacking football.
Tinkler made more changes to his lineup, bringing on Mpho Makola and Mogamat May and he gave the United States forward Jordan Bender his City debut.
City players were annoyed and furious when referee Ndzanzeka did not point to the penalty spot; that could have changed the face of the game when Mothobi Mvala handled the ball in Sundowns' penalty area.
It would edge the home side to push in the tail-end of the game and they finally tested new Downs shot-stopper Ronwen Williams, as he jumped to glove away May's low strike.
The victory was Sundowns' and deservedly, while City head back to the drawing board as the turnaround of fixtures is only 72 hours. Both sides return to action on Tuesday and Wednesday against Swallows and TS Galaxy, respectively.