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SOCCER ROCKETS

After Galaxy overthrow Sundowns in Knockout Cup, Masandawana can finally focus on the AFL

After Galaxy overthrow Sundowns in Knockout Cup, Masandawana can finally focus on the AFL
Marcelo Allende of Mamelodi Sundowns is challenged by Kganyana Letsoenyo of TS Galaxy during their Carling Knockout Cup last-16 match at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on 18 October 2023 (Photo: Samuel Shivambu / BackpagePix)

TS Galaxy eliminated Mamelodi Sundowns in the last 16 of the newly conceptualised domestic cup competition – the Carling Knockout Cup. The fixture was preceded by a flexing of muscles between the higher-ups of the Premier Soccer League and the Confederation of African Football.

Mamelodi Sundowns were bundled out of the newly launched Carling Knockout Cup, going down 5-4 on penalties to a resilient TS Galaxy in Mbombela.

The match ended 2-2 after a frantic two hours of football during which the Rockets raced out of the trenches faster than Springbok star Cheslin Kolbe at full sprint. They were 2-0 up against Masandawana within 16 minutes.

The reigning South African champions fought back in the second half though, even after being reduced to 10 men when midfielder Bongani Zungu was handed his marching orders for breaking Bernard Parker’s leg just before the hour mark.

The Tshwane side fought valiantly, despite the odds stacked against them. They managed to claw back an equaliser to force extra time, just as the death knell was about to sound on the match.

Sundowns

Rhulani Mokwena of Mamelodi Sundowns during their Carling Knockout match against TS Galaxy at Mbombela Stadium on 18 October 2023. (Photo: Dirk Kotze / Gallo Images)

Gaston Sirino was Masandawana’s saviour. Scoring with the last kick of injury time to stretch the game for another 30 minutes. The teams still could not be separated.

Cue the dreaded penalty lottery, in which Sundowns were losers as Galaxy became the first team to book their slot in the quarterfinals of the competition.

“Who cares that you play the day after [a Fifa international break]? Can you tell me of any club in the world, any club in the world, that plays a day after the Fifa break? Who cares that you have the footballer of the season not here,” lamented Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena to SuperSport after the game.

“Who cares that you have the goalkeeper of the season not here? Who cares that you don’t have the defender of the year? Who cares? Everyone will say these are excuses and people will celebrate our downfall. But that’s okay,” added a frustrated Mokwena.

Chaos and confusion       

There were countless questions before the Knockout Cup fixture between Sundowns and Galaxy actually happened, while there was uncertainty and confusion around whether it would even happen.

The matches of the newly launched domestic Knockout Cup competition clashed with the opening weekend of the inaugural African Football League (AFL), which is the brainchild of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

Sundowns are the only South African team in the continental competition, which features seven other African football heavyweights including Al Ahly of Egypt and Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca.

Sead Ramović of TS Galaxy during the Carling Knockout Cup clash with Mamelodi Sundowns at Mbombela Stadium on 18 October 2023. (Photo: Dirk Kotze / Gallo Images)

A Mexican standoff of sorts then ensued over the past couple of weeks. The Premier Soccer League (PSL) said it would not reshuffle its schedule and compromise its latest offering to accommodate Sundowns’ African escapade.

“As South Africans, we have one of the best leagues on the continent. We have set standards. We are the benchmark,” TS Galaxy owner Tim Sukazi told journalists at the launch of the domestic Knockout Cup a week ago.

He reasoned that not having Sundowns playing on the opening weekend of the league’s new baby would not look good for the PSL. Hence the organisation’s board of governors initially voted against reshuffling their schedule. 

“We want our champions here to play their best team in our competition here without really diluting the value of this league that has been there and has grown and become what it is,” continued Sukazi.

In the end, after CAF reached out to the PSL a few days ago, the decision to not allow Sundowns to compete in the AFL was reversed.

Bongani Zungu of Mamelodi Sundowns is challenged by Higor Vidal of TS Galaxy during their Carling Knockout Cup match at Mbombela Stadium on 18 October 2023 (Photo: Samuel Shivambu / BackpagePix)

Now Sundowns would not play on the weekend – when they are scheduled to take on Petro Atlético in Luanda, Angola. Rather, they would play on Wednesday, 18 October, just a day after Bafana Bafana’s friendly encounter against Ivory Coast in Abidjan.

That meant Sundowns were without a number of their superstars, including veteran playmaker Themba Zwane, talismanic midfielder Tebeho Mokoena and dynamic right back Khuliso Mudau, who had a blinder as Bafana drew one-all with Ivory Coast. 

Masandawana have always been praised for their depth in quality. This conundrum of the Knockout Cup and the AFL tested this. Many teams in the PSL would have not been able to field the quality of players that Mokwena was able to against Galaxy on Wednesday.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Mamelodi Sundowns move reignited Ronwen’s love for the beautiful game

However, in team sports things such as chemistry and combinations are vital. They can make a massive difference in games. With the rushed decision to make Sundowns play their cup fixture the day after the international window, there was likely not much opportunity for the available players to gel enough for a match situation.

This raises the question of why it had to come to such a situation. Especially when both the PSL and CAF knew about each other’s competitions months in advance.

Surely the issue could have been resolved well in advance. As opposed to the rushed manner it was “solved” in, just days before the Knockout Cup and AFL kicking off. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Eddie Mangwane says:

    That was bad for our football, it never happened in the world, 7 players in the national team but still forced to play a league cup, haikhona something 🐟

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