Mamelodi Sundowns are yet to hit the top gear this season, but their sheer dominance has ensured they are one match away from ending their hoodoo in the MTN8 after hammering Golden Arrows 4-1 on aggregate over the two-legged semi-final.
Arrows came into this match thinking that they could pull a rabbit out of the hat after holding the Brazilians to a 1-1 draw in the first leg at home. But such was Sundowns' early dominance in Atteridgeville, they went into the break in the driving seat.
After dominating local football by bagging six league titles – and 11 overall – in the last eight and half seasons, the MTN8 trophy eluded the Brazilians. Their excuse, though, was that they had to juggle between the cup and continental football.
As a result, the closest they came to winning the most rewarding domestic trophy was five years ago but they were beaten in the final by defunct Bidvest Wits. But that loss was notwithstanding as they caught the Grand Slam – the African crown.
But the motivated Sundowns which received a bye in the preliminary round of the CAF Champions League are hellbent on challenging for every trophy that’s up for grabs. But they’d have to beat Swallows FC or Cape Town City in the MTN8 final.
The two teams will clash for a spot in the final against Sundowns tonight. But whichever team gets to face Sundowns should be at its best, given the fact that Sundowns can field any team on the day but still manage to come up with the results.
Sundowns are top of the log standings also – after winning four games and drawing one in five matches. But what made their recent victory seem sweet over Arrows was that they hardly broke a sweat, teasing Bafana coach Hugo Broos, who was in the stands.
Sundowns’ progression to the final of the MTN8 should also all but ease the pressure of the coaching trio – Rhulani Mokwena, Manqoba Mngqithi and Steve Komphela – who were under the spotlight for not seeing eye to eye in the last few weeks.
Sundowns’ may appear to have an oversize on paper but their depth has come to the fore when they need it the most. Against Arrows they were without three regulars – Denis Onyango, Mosa Lebusa and Rivaldo Coetzee due to niggling injuries.
But the trio's absence wasn’t evident as their replacements fitted like a glove. But perhaps, immediate credit should go to Peter Shalulile who continued with his rich vein of form. The Namibian pounced as early as the fourth minute after the start.
A long-ball from goalkeeper Reyaad Pieterse found Lyle Lakay. Lakay linked up with Shalulile who set-up Thabiso Kutumela. The latter hit his shot against Sifiso Mlungwana who clumsily parried the rebound back Shalulile who slotted home.
But Arrows nearly found an immediate response after Pule Mmodi played as a decoy, setting up Velemseni Ndwandwe. The Arrows’ attacker, though, unleashed a thunderbolt shot that was delightfully parried for a corner-kick by goalie Pieterse.
From thereon, though, it was all Sundowns who dominated possession and made inroads into Arrows’ final third. Kutumela saw a pin-point curling shot saved by Mlungwana but the former turned provider for Arrows’ former defender Divine Lunga.
Lakay played a short set-piece to Kutumela whose curling shot found a lurking Lunga who guided his header past a high-flying Mlungwana for his debut goal. And from thereon, the Brazilians’ to have removed Arrows from their rear-view mirror.
Neo Maema put the icing on the cake late in stoppage time with a delightful thunderbolt that hit the inside of the upright before rolling behind Mlungwana. Sundowns, though, will know that they are not home and dry as they'll need to finish the job next month.