In a pivotal early-season showdown, Mamelodi Sundowns edged closer to securing their seventh consecutive DStv Premiership title, demonstrating their dominance with a 1-0 victory over Orlando Pirates, a team many had pegged as potential challengers this season.
Early Advantage Sealed by Riberio
Brazilian striker Lucas Riberio was the man of the moment, securing the decisive goal from the penalty spot just 11 minutes into the game at Orlando Stadium. The penalty was awarded following a foul on Themba Zwane by Sphephelo Baloni. This early lead allowed Sundowns to dictate the pace, putting the home side under considerable pressure from the outset.
The Pirates struggled to regain their footing, with Sundowns maintaining a tight grip on the game, particularly during the first half. The home team’s midfielders, including Patrick Maswanganyi, Relebobogile Mofokeng, and Monnapule Saleng, faced a tough time retaining possession against the alert and dominant Sundowns midfield trio of Teboho Mokoena, Marcelo Allende, and Sipho Mbule.
Despite the pressure, Baloni showcased a commendable performance, standing as a notable figure who wasn’t afraid to challenge the Sundowns’ midfield powerhouse, even as other seasoned Pirates players took time to find their confidence.
Pirates’ Missed Opportunities and Flaring Tempers
As the clock ticked past the hour mark, the Pirates saw a golden opportunity to level the scoreline slip away when Zakhele Lepasa shot over the bar despite having ample time to control and pick a spot.
The high-stakes match wasn’t without its share of controversy, with flaring tempers evident on both sides. A disagreement with referee Masixole Bambiso’s decisions led to the red-carding of Pirates’ assistant coach Mandla Ncikazi, adding fuel to an already heated encounter.
Sundowns’ Unbeaten Streak Continues
Despite a spirited effort from the Pirates in the second half, spurred by the introduction of Deon Hotto, Sundowns managed to hold their ground, showcasing their ability to manage and consolidate their lead effectively.
This victory not only brings Sundowns closer to another title but also sees them equal Kaizer Chiefs’ 2014 start-of-season record under Stuart Baxter. Moreover, it extends their unbeaten streak to 31 league matches, surpassing Chiefs’ 2005 record.
Under the stewardship of Rulani Mokwena, who took the reins as the sole head coach in October last year, Sundowns have yet to face defeat in a league game. Given their current form and the display against a formidable Pirates side, the prospects of a loss in the upcoming matches seem distant.
Looking Ahead to the Weekend Matches
As the football community turns its attention to the weekend fixtures, Sundowns are gearing up to face Chiefs at the Lucas Moripe Stadium on Saturday in a bid to secure a spot in the MTN8 final, following a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the semifinal.
On the other hand, the Pirates have a considerable task ahead to refine their strategy when they host Stellenbosch FC at Orlando on Sunday in the other semifinal, holding a narrow 2-1 advantage from the first leg. The upcoming match presents an opportunity for the Pirates to bounce back and rebuild momentum as they navigate a challenging start to the season.