Peter Shalulile was once again the hero for Mamelodi Sundowns, bagging a hat-trick to help them beat Marumo Gallants 3-1 to advance to the Nedbank Cup quarterfinals on Thursday night at Toyota Stadium, Free State.
The victory kept Downs’s treble hopes alive, with the league title all but wrapped up.
In front of a vibrant crowd that reminded one of the Bloemfontein Celtic days, Mamelodi Sundowns took control of the early proceedings, keeping possession of the ball with Themba Zwane, Marcelo Allende, and Neo Maema pulling the strings in midfield.
With Marumo Gallants on the backfoot, it came as no surprise when Peter Shalulile finished from close range from a Neo Maema pinpoint pass.
The Namibian International showed great technique to control, bring the ball down, and push it into the back of the net in the 7th minute.
Sha Sha was at it again in the 26th minute, as he finished from a Zwane rebound to put the Brazilians 2-0 ahead.
Just when it seemed as if the game was going to be a one-sided affair, Sundowns development product, Boitumelo Pheko handed Gallants a lifeline with a beautiful strike from outside the box to make the score 2-1 in the 33rd minute, giving Bahlabane ba ntwa hope of a comeback.
In the second half, Gallants came back a rejuvenated side, putting Downs under pressure as they searched for an equalizer, with Monde Mphambaniso instrumental in the Gallants forward forays.
But in the 74th minute, Shalulile put the game beyond Gallants’s reach with another close range finish from a well-taken Maema free kick.
From then on, it was always going to be difficult for Gallants to come back, with Sundowns introducing the likes of Rivaldo Coetzee and Hashim Domingo to manage the remainder of the game.
But the fact of the matter is: It was not as easy for Sundowns as the score line suggests.
Despite the fact that they controlled possession, enjoying 63% of the ball, when it comes to goal mouth action the game was much closer.
Both teams had 12 shots at goal, with Sundowns putting six on target, to Gallants four.
Downs had seven corner kicks, with Gallants awarded six. Had Bahlabane ba ntwa taken one or two of their chances, we would be telling a different story.
At the end of the day, Downs’s quality both in defence and attack won them the game, with Neo Maema walking away with the MOTM award.
In a nutshell: While Downs treble hopes are still very much alive, for Gallants the loss might have been a blessing in disguise, as it affords them an opportunity to focus on one less tournament, with the relegation battle being their main focus.