A solitary Percy Tau strike in the second half saw Mamelodi Sundowns progress to the next round of the Nedbank Cup on Friday evening.
Sundowns looked to carry their impressive form into the Nedbank Cup Round of 32 clash as they returned to Cape Town to lock horns with National First Division (NFD) side Cape Town All Stars.
With one eye on the league title, Sundowns used the opportunity to make several changes to the side which successfully dispatched of Cape Town City a week ago. Led by Manqoba Mngithi in the absence of the suspended Pitso Mosimane, the Brazilians opted to give the likes of Khama Billiat among others a rest, while Aubrey Ngoma made a welcome start alongside debutant Siyabonga Zulu.
On the side of All Stars, despite them fighting for promotion, coach Brandon Truter named his strongest side as they looked to upset the odds. The Cape Town-based outfit put their hopes in former Premier Soccer League (PSL) player Ruzaigh Gamildien and top scorer Lucky Setelele.
Fans have become accustomed to seeing the Brazilians come out the gates firing from the onset in recent times, and the clash at the Athlone Stadium was no exception. Themba Zwane and Jeremy Brockie both threatened early on, but they could not trouble the scoreboard.
However, All Stars were showing that they would not be intimidated as they fashioned a chance of their own early on, but Gamildien’s effort was superbly blocked by the Sundowns defence.
In spite of the game’s promising start, the clash would become rather quiet with Sundowns enjoying the bulk of possession but unable to find a way past the All Stars defence.
As the first half progressed, Stars though looked impressive, passing the ball around with some authority and playing a brand of football that was easy on the eye, while Sundowns on the other hand, looked to use their pace on the counter attack and had several long-range shots that failed to test the opposition goalkeeper.
Arguably the half’s best chance fell to Zwane with 35 minutes played. Ngoma played the 28-year-old through on goal, but one too many touches by Zwane in the box saw the All Stars defenders recover to alleviate the danger.
Nonetheless, while Sundowns were eager to find the opener before the break, they could not breach Igugu Lekapa’s resistance and went into the interval level.
The resumption of the second half saw All Stars continue to frustrate Sundowns, and forward Setelele was left with his hands on his head as he missed a golden opportunity, dragging his effort wide from point blank range.
The Brazilians were uncharacteristically sloppy and lacked their usual precision which frustrated many of their fans. This sloppiness almost led to the Tshwane giants conceding with under an hour played as poor defending saw All Stars attacker Nation Ndlovu steal the ball off a defender’s feet, only to fire wide from close range.
But against a club such as Sundowns, taking your chances is integral, and All Stars were made to learn that lesson the hard way as on the hour mark Tau expertly slid the ball past the keeper following a superb ball by substitute Gaston Sirino.
The goal meant that All Stars were forced to open up in an effort to throw numbers forward. This saw Sundowns take complete control of the game and Sirino in particular was a marvel to watch as he conducted the Sundowns orchestra.
Mngqithi opted to replace Brockie with Thokozani Sekotlong, and he would almost immediately be in the thick of things as he squared the ball off for Tau, but the 23-year-old this time around lacked the required composure as he blasted his effort high and wide.
With the final whistle looming, Sirino would have an opportunity to find his very first goal for Sundowns, but he failed to hit the target with only the opposition keeper to beat.
However, it would not matter much as Sundowns held on for the victory and sealed their passage into the next round of the competition.