Mamelodi Sundowns’ vulnerability gives Orlando Pirates hope in cup final

Striker Peter Shalulile (right) has been wasteful in front of goal for Mamelodi Sundowns this season. Photo: BackpagePix

Striker Peter Shalulile (right) has been wasteful in front of goal for Mamelodi Sundowns this season. Photo: BackpagePix

Published May 31, 2024


Comment by Herman Gibbs

For some time now, Mamelodi Sundowns have shown vulnerability that fellow Premiership teams, except Cape Town City, have been unable to exploit.

Last week, Sundowns’ dreams of joining the world’s football ‘Invincibles’ disappeared in the rarefied highveld air after City inflicted a 1-0 defeat on the Premiership champions at Loftus Versfeld.

The Brazilians were on the verge of becoming the first team in SA professional history to complete the season undefeated in the league.

Had Sundowns defeated City, they would have joined Europe’s elite teams who have accomplished the feat – AC Milan (1991/92), Arsenal (2003/04), Juventus (2011/12), Celtic (2016/17), Rangers (2020/21) and Bayer Leverkusen (2023/24).

Sundowns dominated the match against City, as they usually do against most opponents in the domestic arena. The stats showed that Masandawana enjoyed 71% possession, which has been the case in many matches this season.

It must be perplexing for the Sundowns technical staff that despite the glut of possession in that match, the team couldn’t score.

It was equally perplexing when Rulani Mokwena’s team were held to draws after dominating matches. This season, they suffered seven draws in 30 matches – at least two of these could have ended in defeat if Lady Luck was on the opposition’s side.

Apart from City, there were teams like TS Galaxy, Stellenbosch FC, Royal AM and even relegated Cape Town Spurs who were dominated by Sundowns, but could have won the match when chances emerged, albeit against the run of play.

— Mamelodi Sundowns FC (@Masandawana) May 30, 2024

At the heart of this vulnerability is the Brazilians’ lack of firepower in front of the opposition goal.

Since they dominate matches from start to finish, their marksmen should be topping the leading scorers’ charts.

Instead, Tshegofatso Mabasa of Orlando Pirates (16) and Iqraam Rayners of Stellenbosch FC (15) are heading the charts.

Brazilian star Lucas Ribeiro, with 12 goals, is Sundowns’ highest goalscorer in the Premiership.

Further down the list is Namibian Peter Shalulile with nine goals.

Shalulile, unlike Ribeiro, is an out-and-out striker, but he has been wasteful in front of goal.

He was more effective in previous seasons and has been the leading Premiership goalscorer in three previous campaigns.

There is a predictability in Sundowns’ play, and this year, coaches like Steve Barker, Sead Ramovic, Ernst Middendorp and Eric Tinkler have come up with game plans which have been very effective against the Tshwane outfit.

Out of respect, perhaps, opposition coaches have not mentioned Sundowns’ perceived predictability.

However, last year, Chippa United coach at the time, Morgan Mammila, said Sundowns are an easy team to play against because opponents know what to expect.

He declared: “Even a DStv Diski Challenge player will tell you how Sundowns play. A very easy team to play against.”

It is very likely that Jose Riveiro, the Pirates coach, will also have a strategy for tomorrow’s Nedbank Cup final at Mbombela Stadium (3pm kick-off).

Riveiro and the Pirates brains trust would also have picked up that towards the end of the season, Sundowns were a pale shadow of the team that steamrolled opponents at the start of the season.

In their last five league game, they only scored five goals after a defeat, a draw and three wins, two of which were not convincing.

It was also noticeable that the team lacked that killer instinct despite overwhelming opponents.

Against this background, Riveiro may tell his players before kick-off tomorrow that “Sundowns are there for the taking”.