Sundowns looked to keep their hopes of a league and cup double alive as they travelled to Pietermaritzburg to lock horns with a formidable Maritzburg in the Nedbank Cup semi-final.
The clash was a sold-out affair and promised to be a thriller with both teams eager to book their place alongside Free State Stars in the final. Despite Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane being focused on the league, after building a six-point advantage over Orlando Pirates, this allowed him to name a consistent starting XI. The only change was enforced due to the suspension of Hlompho Kekana, meaning that Oupa Manyisa partnered Tiyani Mabunda in the middle of the park.
Meanwhile on the side of Maritzburg, coach Fadlu Davids also refrained from tinkering with his line-up, once again entrusting former Sundowns defender Siyanda Xulu with marshalling the backline.
Sundowns who have become renowned fast starters almost immediately stunned the Maritzburg support into silence as Gaston Sirino finally opened his goal scoring account, albeit with a bit of help from goal keeper Richard Ofori. With just two minutes played, Sirino found himself in space on the left-hand side, but his tame effort somehow squeezed through the Ghanaian’s hands, giving Sundowns the early advantage.
This only boosted Sundowns’ confidence which saw them revert to their famous possession football. But to Maritzburg’s credit they did not let the early goal get the better of them as their impressive attack continued to pick away at the Sundowns defence.
The Team of Choice had their first real chance on goal with 20 minutes played, but Bevan Fransman’s free kick sailed just over Denis Onyango’s goal. Sundowns though, always looked dangerous especially on the counter attack. On the half hour mark, Percy Tau found the ball at his feet but was closed down as his shot deflected out for a corner.
Although, Maritzburg were hoping to find an equaliser, the clash became a tightly fought encounter in the midfield, that was until five minutes before the half-time break. Sibusiso Vilakazi found the ball at his feet inside the area, but despite his quick turn and shot, Ofori made a sensational save.
Nonetheless, at the other end, Maritzburg showed just why they have earned the respect of everyone within the South African football fraternity as Maboe linked up with fortune Makaringe and after showing some superb skill to beat his marker, Maboe delivered the killer blow as he placed the ball into the bottom corner past Onyango, ensuring that both sides went into the break even.
Sundowns coach Mosimane would have been disappointed with his side giving away their lead and surely gave them a stern talking to. That showed in the second half as Sundowns came out of the gates hungry which required the Maritzburg defence to remain resolute.
But with hardly 10 minutes having passed in the second half, Sundowns were dealt a blow as Anele Ngcongca’s injury woes continued as he was forced off with the pacier Thapelo Morena coming in. The change did not stop Sundowns’ attacking prowess as Themba Zwane saw his shot saved by Ofori at the near post.
Ofori was certainly making up for his early mistake as he again proved to be a resistant figure at the back, as he superbly palmed away Sirino’s dangerous effort on goal. That would be the Uruguayan’s last contribution as he was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence with just over 15 minutes to go.
This meant Sundowns would find themselves on the backfoot for the remaining minutes, and in response Mosimane threw on youngster Keletso Makgalwa.
However, with five minutes remaining, Maritzburg completed the turnaround as Kunene showed impressive skill and composure and put the ball past Onyango for the second time on the night.
That would not be all as minutes later, Makaringe would wrap up game as he put the ball beyond the reach of Onyango in stoppage time, confirming their place in their very first final against Free State Stars in Cape Town.