The Nedbank Cup would have a new champion as Maritzburg and Stars locked horns in a highly anticipated cup final at the Cape Town Stadium.
It was a celebratory atmosphere in the Mother City as the 2017/18 season looked to wind off in style. Not many would have predicted that these two unfancied opponents would have reached the showpiece event, but Maritzburg and Ea Lla Koto have shown that they belong with the big boys this season.
Nonetheless, with Maritzburg’s first bout of silverware at stake, coach Fadlu Davids looked for consistency, as he went for his tried and tested. Davids once again put his trust in the exciting attack of Lebohang Maboe, Siphesihle Ndlovu, Fortune Makaringe and club’s top scorer Andrea Fileccia.
Meanwhile on the side of Luc Eymael’s Stars, the Belgium opted for the strike partnership of Harris Tchilimbou and Siphelele Mthembu who were looking to break down the formidable defensive partnership of Bevan Fransman and Siyanda Xulu.
As expected it was Maritzburg who looked to hit the ground running from the off as they used the pace of their attack to their advantage. Makaringe would have a chance early on but his effort would go well wide of target.
The game was being played at an exciting pace which certainly thrilled the lively crowd in attendance. While Maritzburg looked lively on the counter attack, Stars proved a difficult opponent as they looked dangerous going forward with Mthembu making a nuisance of himself.
Although, both sides looked promising, both keepers were underutilised as the game approached the half-hour mark. The intensity of the game certainly simmered as the ball was concentrated predominantly in the middle of the park, making for a cagier affair.
It was a frustrating half for Maritzburg in particular, as when they looked to get things going, their finishing left much to be desired. With just 10 minutes remaining, Maritzburg had arguably their best chance of the half, but this time Ndlovu’s strike was blocked by the defender. Minutes later, Stars keeper Thela Ngobeni would finally be tested as the burly goalkeeper got down well to keep out Fransman’s looping header.
While Maritzburg looked the more promising and perhaps should have found the net when Maboe failed to get a toe on Fileccia’s cross, at the other end, Maritzburg would suffer a hammer blow as a mistake at the back allowed Sinethemba Jantjie to play Dlamini through on goal, and the attacker made no mistake as he slotted the ball past Ofori, giving Stars the lead before the break.
The resumption of the second half saw the KwaZulu-Natal-based outfit look to find the equaliser early. Maritzburg made their intent known just five minutes after the restart but Bandile Shandu’s effort from a Fileccia lay off just flew wide, to the relief of the Stars defenders.
It was all Maritzburg as Eymael’s men were happy to sit back and soak in the pressure. Maritzburg though, lacked the killer instinct and were guilty of turning over possession far too often in the final third.
But with an hour played, Maritzburg began to find their feet. This tempted Davids to throw on impact player Mxolisi Kunene in order to rescue their title hopes. Thereafter, Xulu would come close as he headed at the near post, but his effort would fly wide.
Maritzburg were throwing everything at the Stars goal and with time running out perhaps were denied a penalty as the ball seemed to have hit the hand of a Stars defender in the box. Maritzburg were giving it a real go, and with just two minutes remaining, Xulu squandered a golden opportunity to take the game into extra time, but somehow the defender missed the target with an acrobatic effort from infront of goal.
Despite Maritzburg bombarding Stars’ box, the Free State outfit held on to record a famous cup victory.