Sundowns went into the encounter looking to continue their recent dominance over their Johannesburg rivals who had not defeated them since 2014.
Both coaches named their strongest attacking line-ups, but Sundowns were forced into a solitary change as Thapelo Morena had to be withdrawn, giving Siyanda Zwane a welcome start.
For Pirates though, coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic too, rang the changes in the absence of Thabo Matlaba.
As expected, the encounter lived up to expectations as the Sea Robbers showed early on that they were not going to have a repeat of last year’s embarrassing defeat. Following a corner kick which was not dealt with by the Sundowns defence, Pirates defender Ntsikelelo Nyauza fired the ball home from close range to silence the home fans.
The goal which came as early as the second minute, did little to dent the Brazilians’ spirits as they looked dangerous on the break, and with the game being played at a frenetic pace, it was excitement galore.
Pirates’ keeper Jackson Mabokgwane was putting on a goalkeeping masterclass, making several spectacular saves, denying Themba Zwane from a point-blank range, before making a strong one-handed save to deny Tiyani Mabunda.
Mabokgwane was being overworked and had it not been for his heroics, the scoreline could have been all so different.
With 12 minutes played, he again produced a top notch save to deny Percy Tau’s header. The Sundowns attacker found himself on the end of a pin-point cross, but his header could not find a way past the 29-year-old shot-stopper.
Despite Sundowns’ dominance, coach Pitso Mosimane was left puzzled when they fell even further behind. With 18 minutes played, a mistake by Motjeka Madisha was capitalised on by Justin Shonga, who played Mpho Makola through on goal and the attacking midfielder showed great precision as he rifled the ball past a stunned Denis Onyango from outside the box.
Sundowns looked dangerous, but try as they did, they could not breach Mabokgwane’s resistance. That was until just before the 40-minute mark when Percy Tau showed good composure as he calmly placed he ball past the keeper from close range reducing the deficit.
With the half-time break fast approaching, the pace of the game showed no signs of slowing down and Luvuyo Memela came within inches of restoring Pirates’ two-goal advantage, but his left-footed effort hit the wrong side of the net.
The resumption of the second half saw a similar intensity displayed by both sets of players with Sundowns looking livelier. Tau thought he had found the equaliser early on, but his effort was ruled out for offside.
Meanwhile, with Sundowns pushing men upfield, they were leaving themselves exposed to counter-attacks and it meant that Onyango had to constantly be on his toes to alleviate the danger. In an effort to steer the game the way of the home side, Mosimane replaced Sibusiso Vilakazi with Anthony Laffor.
The Liberian soon found himself in the thick of things as poor defending left him with the goal at his mercy, but he was unable to find the target as his shot flew well over the crossbar to the dismay of his coach. Laffor’s opportunity seemed to raise the intensity once again and after the water break, Mabokgwane again had to be at his best as he was tested by Laffor and Kekana from distance.
With time running out, both sides' defensive frailties were clearly apparent which saw several opportunities go to waste. This meant that that victory would go to the side who wanted it more.
In a final throw of the dice, Sundowns threw on young Keletso Makgalwa to add some youthful exuberance upfront, but with under 10 minutes to go, Memela delivered the killer blow as he expertly struck his left-footed effort past Onyango, ensuring that Pirates left Tshwane with the three points.