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SUN STRIKE

Important takeaways from the MTN8 semifinals, including the brilliance of Brazilian Ribeiro Costa

Important takeaways from the MTN8 semifinals, including the brilliance of Brazilian Ribeiro Costa
Teboho Mokoena of Mamelodi Sundowns and Lehlogonolo Matlou of Kaizer Chiefs during the MTN8 semifinal, first-leg match at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on 2 September 2023. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates will clash in the MTN8 final on 7 October after casting aside Kaizer Chiefs and Stellenbosch, respectively.

There have been, and there currently are, a number of South American soccer stars plying their trade in South Africa’s Premier Soccer League (PSL). None is as exciting as Mamelodi Sundowns’ Lucas Ribeiro Costa.

The Brazilian is just a few months into his time with Sundowns but has already firmly established himself as a key player for the team. The 24-year-old once again played a key role as the Brazilians edged Kaizer Chiefs 2-1 to book their spot in the MTN8 final.

At a packed-to-capacity Lucas Moripe Stadium on Saturday, Costa provided an exquisite assist for Peter Shalulile’s decisive second goal of the game. A goal that ultimately saw Masandawana seal a 3-2 aggregate victory over Amakhosi, as well as a second MTN8 final appearance in three seasons.

MTN8 semifinals

Efmamjjasond González and Edson Castillo of Kaizer Chiefs and Khuliso Mudau and Mothobi Mvala of Mamelodi Sundowns battle for the ball during their MTN8 semifinal at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on 2 September 2023. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Since signing for Sundowns in July, Costa has netted five times from six outings. He also has one league assist to complement his impressive goal haul.

In Sundowns’ march to the MTN8 final, he is yet to score from three matches he has played. However, he does have two assists to his name. All this considered, to say he has hit the ground running in South Africa would be an understatement.

Lucas has qualities you can’t coach. [Qualities] you can’t improve. They are there and God-given.

Even though his impressive acclimatisation to South African soccer has taken some by surprise, the least-astounded person is Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena.       

“Am I surprised? No. Because there was a lot of work done behind the scenes from the scouting and data department… There was a lot of work done there [to profile him],” Mokwena was quoted as saying of Costa by iDiski Times.

“He’s worked very hard to earn the trust of his teammates. I get the feeling when he plays and at training, and around the premises and facilities, that his teammates trust him. And that is very important for a player arriving in the group… It’s because of his work, humility and personality as a good human being,” added Mokwena.

Mamelodi Sundowns fans celebrate during the MTN8 semifinal against Kaizer Chiefs at FNB Stadium on 2 September 2023. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

“Lucas has qualities you can’t coach. [Qualities] you can’t improve. They are there and God-given. He’s Brazilian and many don’t understand there’s a difference between skill and flair. A lot of South American players have flair. You see it sometimes with Lucas. You see flair.”

Indeed, Costa – who spent the bulk of his career in Belgium before this African detour – has the twinkle toes that may soon permanently endear him to not only Sundowns’ supporters, but South Africa’s soccer lovers as a whole.

The likes of Venezuelan striker José Torrealba (who played for Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs), plus Gaston Sirino (Sundowns) have made their names in the PSL.

As have players such as Brazilian defender Ricardo Nascimento (Sundowns and Royal AM), Eduardo Ferreira (Ajax Cape Town and Sundowns) and Leonardo Castro – who donned the colours of Sundowns and, most recently, Chiefs.

Costa has an opportunity to etch his name in the history books as well. With Masandawana out to find a creative force on a similar level to skipper and long-time servant Themba Zwane, the Brazilian playmaker may just be what the doctor ordered.

Mamelodi Sundowns fans at the MTN8 semifinal clash with Kaizer Chiefs at FNB Stadium on 2 September 2023. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena during the MTN8 semifinal press conference at PSL headquarters in Johannesburg on 21 September 2023. (Photo : Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Pressure piles on Ntseki

After the semifinal defeat to the Brazilians, Chiefs’ eight-year trophy continues. Though Amakhosi will feel aggrieved after being denied a clear penalty following Thapelo Maseko fouling Mduduzi Mdantsane in the Sundowns box.

Had the spot-kick been rightfully called by the match officials, Chiefs might be in the final. The incident occurred in injury time. If Amakhosi had scored, the match would have been level at three-all.

The Soweto side would have then made it through to the final by virtue of having scored more away goals in the two-legged semifinal. This after the first leg in Johannesburg ended at 1-1 three weeks ago.

Chiefs

Kaizer Chiefs coach Molefi Ntseki at the MTN8 semifinal press conference at PSL headquarters in Johannesburg on 21 September 2023. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

“It was a penalty because he tackled him from behind. That’s a penalty. It’s inside the box. There is contact. It’s supposed to be a penalty,” Chiefs’ underfire coach Molefi Ntseki said after his side’s defeat.

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Though Ntseki is only a few months into the job, he is already feeling the heat of being at the helm in Naturena. Before the Sundowns clash, Amakhosi lost to SuperSport United in the Premiership.

That 1-0 loss led to frustrated Chiefs fans misbehaving once again, hurling projectiles onto the field. They were directed at the former Bafana Bafana coach. They even went as far as chanting “Ntseki must go” after the coach had been safely escorted off the field by the police.    

Stormy waters

Though the Orlando Pirates supporters did not resort to the hooliganism of their Chiefs counterparts, there was visible irritation among those at Orlando Stadium on Sunday as the Sea Robbers went down 1-0 to Stellenbosch in the other MTN8 final.

Ultimately, the Buccaneers went through to their second successive MTN8 final, thanks to the away-goals rule of the competition. This came after they scored two goals as they defeated the Capetonians 2-1 in Stellenbosch a few weeks ago.

Nevertheless, there is concern that Pirates are far from genuinely competing with Sundowns in the league, in spite of that being the expectation this season. Especially after the Bucs won both domestic trophies on offer last season.

However, if the early signs of this season are anything to go by, Sundowns will once again cruise to the league title, barring an implosion of some sort. Even in the MTN8 final, Pirates are the underdogs. DM

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