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Nedbank Cup final between Sundowns and Pirates will be a riveting heavyweight bout

Nedbank Cup final between Sundowns and Pirates will be a riveting heavyweight bout
Ahead of the Nedbank Cup final on Saturday, 1 June, Orlando Pirates coach Jose Riveiro says it’s a huge honour for the team to be playing in their fourth final in a row. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

In their own unique ways, Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns have been the best DStv Premiership sides this season. They battle for ultimate supremacy on Saturday, 1 June,  in the Nedbank Cup final, the last game of the season.

In one corner, there is Orlando Pirates – a team that has evolved into formidable Cup specialists under the tutelage of Spanish tactician José Riveiro. The Sea Robbers are the reigning Nedbank Cup champions and two-in-a-row MTN8 champions.

In the other corner is Mamelodi Sundowns – serial South African champions who are fresh off winning a record-extending seventh league title in a row. 

They did it in style too, falling just one win/draw short of becoming the first South African team to navigate the 30-game DStv Premiership season without suffering a single defeat. The Brazilians lost the last game of the season when they were vanquished 1-0 by Cape Town City. 

Despite that loss, Sundowns remain the benchmark club in South African soccer. As such they may be marginal favourites heading into the sold-out final at Mpumalanga’s Mbombela Stadium on Saturday, 1 June.

However, Pirates – who defeated Sundowns on penalties in the MTN8 final that took place in the early stages of the 2023/2024 season – will also stand tall and look to conclude their campaign by defending their Cup title as well. 

With both teams being home to some of the best players on display in the Premiership, from Themba Zwane and Patrick Maswanganyi to Ronwen Williams, Teboho Mokoena and starlet Relebohile Mofokeng, the tussle should be enterprising. 

“Here we are again, in another final,” Riveiro said in his pre-match press conference. 

“We have the opportunity to defend another one of the trophies we won last season. It’s a huge honour for us to be representing Pirates in another final. It’s the fourth one in a row,” the Spanish mentor said.

Marquee fixture 

Ned bank Cup finalRhulani Mokwena

Mamelodi Sundowns head coach Rhulani Mokwena says it’ll be the tiny details that hold sway in the Nedbank Cup final against Pirates. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Though the Soweto Derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Pirates remains the biggest soccer show in town from a social perspective – from a purely footballing and tactical point of view, matches between the Brazilians and the Sea Robbers have become the most riveting affairs over the last few years. 

“We can agree that right now, this is the top game you can play in this country,” Riveiro told journalists, when quizzed on what makes this fixture particularly special. 

“Both sides know about the difficulty of the task. Whoever wants to win this final, must apply the best version of themselves. Both sides know. It’s going to be a special one.”

On why the fixture is usually entertaining, Riveiro’s Sundowns counterpart Rhulani Mokwena said: “It’s just the magnitude of the clubs. These are two big clubs. Also the profile of the players. 

“When you have good players on one side, and [another set] of good players on the other side – you’re bound to have a good match,” added Mokwena, who is the nephew of Pirates legend Jomo Sono. 

This will be the fifth time that Pirates and Sundowns clash in the Nedbank Cup in its current guise – which the competition has worn since 2008. The Buccaneers edge the head-to-head 3-2, with their last meeting coming in the quarterfinals in 2021. On that occasion  Sundowns walloped the Bucs 4-1.

Cup specialists

Nedbank Cup final

Bathusi Aubaas of Sundowns and Antonio van Wyk of Stellenbosch FC during their Nedbank Cup semifinal match at Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch on 5 May 2024. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman / Gallo Images)

Nedbank Cup Final

Sirgio Kammies of Chippa United and Tshegofatso Mabasa of Orlando Pirates during their Nedbank Cup semifinal match at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Gqeberha on 4 May 2024, South Africa. (Photo: Richard Huggard / Gallo Images)

In spite of dominating in domestic knockout competitions, Pirates have struggled to replicate that form in their league campaigns under Riveiro. 

Last season, his first in South Africa, the Spaniard guided Pirates to second spot, although they finished a massive 16 points behind Premiership winners Sundowns. That was a record gap between the first and second-placed teams in the South African top-flight leagues at the time. 

In the 2023/2024 campaign, Pirates managed to cling onto second spot, ahead of Stellenbosch, via a superior goal difference. However, somehow Sundowns extended the gap between themselves and the Buccaneers, finishing a record 23 points ahead this season. 

Despite their league inconsistency, Riveiro says his team’s form in Cups is an indication that they are making progress. The Spaniard says these strides will soon be reflected in league form too.

“For me it’s a sign, a clear one, that things are going well for Pirates. You don’t find yourself in four finals in a row by chance,” Riveiro said.

“It’s not about me. It’s about our process and commitment in these types of games. For me, what’s important is what’s going to come in the future, when we capitalise on all these experiences. If, along the way, we can continue playing in finals and collecting trophies, that’s something fantastic.”

As for what will win the game, Mokwena believes, as in any final – the points of separation will be marginal. 

“From the cup finals I’ve been involved in, it’s minute details that sway [the match] one way or the other,” the Sundowns coach said. 

“But you’ve got to control what you can control and be as prepared as best as you possibly can be. Perform to your best ability for every single minute of the 90, 120 or even with the penalties.”

Both teams have had memorable seasons, standing out from the rest in their own unique ways. Now each will be aiming for the Cup in order to outdo the other one more time this season, while putting on a spectacle for South African soccer fans. DM

Kick off for the Nedbank Cup final on 1 June between Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates is 3pm SA time. 

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