Sundowns’ ‘mentality monsters’ see off Stellies to book spot in final

Thembinkosi Lorch scored the winning goal for Mamelodi Sundowns against Stellenbosch in their Nedbank Cup semi-final at Danie Craven Stadium yesterday. | Phando Jikelo Independent Media

Thembinkosi Lorch scored the winning goal for Mamelodi Sundowns against Stellenbosch in their Nedbank Cup semi-final at Danie Craven Stadium yesterday. | Phando Jikelo Independent Media

Published May 5, 2024


Zaahier Adams

Stellenbosch FC (0) 1

Palace 81’

Mamelodi Sundowns (1) 2

Mudau 11’, Lorch 74’

Mamelodi Sundowns survived a frenetic finish to a pulsating Nedbank Cup semi-final to end Stellenbosch FC’s 25-game unbeaten streak across all competitions at the Danie Craven Stadium yesterday.

Despite a second-half penalty miss from their premier goalscorer Peter Shalulile, Sundowns’ “mentality monsters” were just too much for the gallant Winelands’ outfit to handle as the DStv Premiership champions held on for a tense 2-1 victory.

Sundowns have now set up a mouthwatering Nedbank Cup final against Orlando Pirates, who beat Chippa United in the first semi-final, on June 1.

Khuliso Mudau of Mamelodi Sundowns opened the scoring in their Nedbank Cup semi-final against Stellenbosch yesterday. | BackpagePix

It was the visitors’ substitutions that had the greatest impact with Thapelo Morena delivering a player-of-the-match performance after replacing Divine Lunga early in the first half. Lunga had already picked up a yellow card and was in danger of further caution after committing another needless foul that forced coach Rulani Mokwena into an early tactical shift.

But it was Thembinkosi Lorch, who came on for Tashreeq Matthews in the 70th minute, who stole the show with the winner for Sundowns after the early goal from Khulisa Mudau had set the Brazilians on their way.

Lorch had run a good line down the centre of the field and was able to beat the retreating Stellies defence when Shalulile played a neat ball over the top. The midfielder used the entire length of his body to meet the pass before heading past Oscarine Masuluke in the Stellies goal.

Sundowns seemed set to bang the final nail in Stellies’ coffin when Shalulile stepped up to the spot shortly after Lorch’s header when Mudau was brought down in the box, but instead the Namibian fired his shot way over Masuluke’s crossbar.

Thembinkosi Lorch celebrates with his teammates after scoring. | Phando Jikelo Independent Media

The missed penalty seemed to galvanise Stellies as Steve Barker’s team hit back almost immediately through substitute Genino Palace, who slotted the ball comfortably past Bafana Bafana captain and No 1 Ronwen Williams in the Sundowns goal.

Palace’s goal set up a grandstand finish, but Sundowns’ class and experience shone through during this period as they managed to absorb all the pressure not only on the turf but also from all the fans clad in maroon inside the Danie Craven Stadium.

“It was a difficult game, but we knew we were playing a difficult team. You can see why they went 25 games unbeaten,” Sundowns coach Mokwena said.

“Tactically, though, I thought we were very good. We got the tactics spot on. We pulled through because of our mentality. Our subs were good.

“Unfortunately, we had to make an early sub with Lunga, but Thapelo was amazing when he came on. Lorch was amazing when he came on.

“The challenge with Stellenbosch is because they play so vertical and so fast, they are a team that is going to present you with turnovers and if your frontline is still in the previous phase you are going to have problems.

“But I want to compliment my group of players, they are mentality monsters.”

Mudau’s 11th-minute strike, when he beat Masuluke at the near post, allowed Sundowns to settle into an early rhythm that forced the home team’s chief suppliers Deano van Rooyen and Fawaaz Basadien to sit further back and thereby not allowing the fullbacks to take up their usual attacking positions down the flanks.

With no crosses coming into the box, Stellies were forced to look for their danger man Iqraam Rayners with long balls over the top.

The plan worked in Sundowns’ favour as they were able to hold a high line in defence with goalkeeper Williams cleaning up at the back, although Stellies could a little bit aggrieved after Rayners had the ball in the back of the net in the 39th minute, only to be called back by the substitute linesman for offside.

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A change in official was required when the original assistant referee, Zakhele Siwala, had to be replaced midway through the first half after suffering a hamstring strain, which led to a 13-minute delay.

Stellenbosch coach Steve Barker was not overly despondent with his team’s performance, though, as he felt that they went toe-to-toe with one of the biggest teams on the African continent.

“It was a good test for us. A nice big crowd. A cup semi-final. It was a good gauge to see where we are as a football club and I thought we did ourselves proud,” Barker said.

“We hung in the game there and at 2-1, I thought maybe we could have found an equaliser. We were a little bit unlucky (not) to force something.

“I thought, especially in the second half, we did not allow them the space on the ball and we were a little bit more confident. It’s our second semi-final we have lost in the last two seasons, so we keep learning.”