Big guns knocked out of the MTN8 at the quar­ter-fi­nal stage by fired-up Mar­itzburg

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - MA­ZOLA MOLEFE

MAN OF THE MO­MENT: Evans Rusike of Mar­itzburg United cel­e­brates scor­ing the only goal of the match as they knocked Sun­downs out of the MTN8 at the first hur­dle yes­ter­day. They will face Su­perS­port United in the semi-fi­nals.

ON paper, Mamelodi Sun­downs’ heavy ar­tillery – es­pe­cially with the ad­di­tion of Oupa Many­isa and Ge­orge Lebese – had al­ready won them this MTN8 quar­ter-fi­nal fix­ture against Mar­itzburg United.

But , come to think of it, the re­al­ity was that they were fac­ing their bo­gey side. Of­ten when these two sides face off , there’s hardly any­thing elec­tric about the en­counter it­self – un­til Mar­itzburg take a ‘sur­prise’ lead, which is a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence.

Last sea­son, for in­stance, the Team of Choice held the Brazil­ians goal­less in the open­ing Premier League game at the Harry Gwala Sta­dium al­most ex­actly 12 months ago.

And then Mar­itzburg de­railed Sun­downs’ ti­tle de­fence at this very venue in the sec­ond round fix­ture by win­ning 2-0. One of the scor­ers that night, striker Evans Rusike, was tor­men­tor-in-chief again here with a goal that proved to be the win­ner to send Mar­itzburg to the semi-fi­nals of the sea­son-open­ing tour­na­ment, where they joined de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Bid­vest Wits, Su­perS­port United and Cape Town City.

Sun­downs were, un­sur­pris­ingly, mostly dom­i­nant as they en­joyed the lion’s share of the pos­ses­sion. But they hardly trou­bled goal­keeper Bon­gani Mpan­dle. Kennedy Mweene, too, was a spec­ta­tor for much of the game at the other end of the pitch un­til Rusike struck close to the half hour mark.

This game had been typ­i­cal of a sea­son opener for both sides be­fore then – heavy legs, slow pace and wayward shots.

Nei­ther of the two teams were sharp enough when the odd op­por­tu­nity to take the lead pre­sented it­self.

But with Percy Tau, Khama Bil­liat, Sibu­siso Vi­lakazi and Yan­nick Zakri lead­ing the line for Sun­downs, the hosts should have been slightly more po­tent in at­tack and more ac­cu­rate with their at­tempts.

They looked even sharper when they were trail­ing, coach Pitso Mosi­mane de­cid­ing to bring on both his new boys in for­mer Or­lando Pi­rates cap­tain Many­isa and Lebese, who ar­rived from Kaizer Chiefs on Thurs­day.

Mar­itzburg held on, how­ever – park­ing the bus if you like, and who can blame them given what was thrown at them so late into the en­counter.

Their coach Fadlu Davids, now fi­nally per­ma­nently at the helm af­ter sev­eral im­pres­sive stints as care­taker, cau­tiously set up his stall to guar­an­tee vic­tory. He, too, had an ace up his sleeve, although it was a de­fen­sive tac­tic, when Siyanda Xulu, an­other ar­rival from Chiefs and also a for­mer Sun­downs star, was called on to help keep the ag­gres­sive Brazil­ians at bay.

Davids will earner fur­ther praise from fans, neu­trals and his bosses af­ter this win, which brings him closer to achiev­ing one of his am­bi­tions man­dates, an ob­jec­tive set be­fore him by the club when he was ap­pointed two months ago.

Davids has been asked to fin­ish in the top eight dur­ing the 2017/18 sea­son and reach one cup fi­nal.

Given the way Mar­itzburg ap­proached this game against the African cham­pi­ons, it might just be at­tain­able.

They will face Su­perS­port in the next round, while the other semi-fi­nal will be be­tween Cape Town City and Bid­vest Wits.

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