Saturday’s match between Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns demonstrated their status as South African football royalty.
The usual big three of Pirates, Sundowns, and Kaizer Chiefs rarely advanced to the MTN8 semifinals in prior seasons.
Given their performance in the DStv Premiership, when Pirates and Sundowns were matched against one other in the semifinals this season, the match was labeled a “final before the final.” And they lived up to expectations in the first leg, as they played to a thrilling 0-0 draw without scoring a goal.
Sundowns entered the match as clear favorites, given that they are the defending champions and have an extremely deep roster.
However, they would have to prove their worth, as Pirates’ defense has been resolute, allowing only four goals in nine encounters.
However, striker Peter Shalulile emphasized before to the game that Sundowns would need to think outside the box in order to penetrate the Pirates’ defense.
Ndlabayithethwa Ndlondlo’s debut for the Pirates, though, was a memorable one for the rookie. The small Ndlondlo, who wore the renowned No. 15 jersey, directed the Pirates’ attacking play with some deft touches, to the raucous applause of the Ghost.
Ndlondlo was remarkable. He played as though he had been with the Pirates for some time, using the sold-out crowd as additional fuel. His coach, Jose Riveiro, who was facing Sundowns for the first time, was awestruck by his performance and insisted there is more to come.
“I have little faith in individual trophies. I am however pleased for the boy. “It’s not easy to get into a place with such high standards as Pirates,” Riveiro stated.
“However, he has been phenomenal since his arrival. Therefore, we felt secure and comfortable playing him in the starting eleven (against the champions).
“I don’t believe you discovered Phillip tonight. I believe he is a football player who has already demonstrated his value and ability.
“When you have a solid foundation and capable players surrounding you, you can appear even better. His acclimation was really rapid. This is why we chose him to begin.”
Sundowns had more possession in the end, but Pirates had more opportunities to score with four attempts on target opposed to none for Sundowns.
However, this should not keep the three Brazilian coaches awake at night. Instead, it should inspire them to come out swinging in the second leg in Polokwane three weeks from now.
However, because that match is not scheduled until later this month, Sundowns have ample opportunity to hone their methods in league and continental play.
They will meet Le Passe in the first leg of the CAF Champions League second round qualifiers on Sunday, while Pirates will face Sekhukhune United in league play on Tuesday (5pm kick-off).
Pirates are not suddenly a well-oiled machine merely because they are creating scoring opportunities and possessing fluidity in midfield.
In a late cameo, returning striker Kermit Erasmus demonstrated what he can provide to Pirates against his previous club. It is anticipated that these two clubs will continue to improve, making them the clear favorites to win the championship this season.