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SOCCER

Young Relebohile Mofokeng proves his mettle with Nedbank Cup winner for Pirates

Young Relebohile Mofokeng proves his mettle with Nedbank Cup winner for Pirates
Relebohile Mofokeng of Orlando Pirates during the Nedbank Cup final match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates at Mbombela Stadium on 1 June 2024 in Nelspruit, South Africa. (Photo: Dirk Kotze / Gallo Images)

Relebohile Mofokeng has been the best young player in South African soccer’s top flight this season. His last-minute Nedbank Cup winner for Orlando Pirates only enhanced his growing reputation.

Orlando Pirates starlet Relebohile Mofokeng concluded what has been a sensational first full season as a senior when he scored with the last kick of the match to help his team beat Mamelodi Sundowns 2-1 during Saturday’s Nedbank Cup final.

Mofokeng — who has been instrumental in Pirates’ success this season despite being just 19 years old — came off the bench in the second half to snatch victory for the Buccaneers in the 94th minute, when it seemed that the match was poised for extra time.

Sundowns had hogged the ball for large periods of the game, but could not manage more than one goal, which they scored via skipper Themba Zwane 10 minutes into the second half.

Pirates equalised with just under 20 minutes to play when playmaker Patrick Maswanganyi won and converted a penalty. Sundowns missed a penalty early in the first stanza when Pirates’ goalkeeper Sipho Chaine saved Lucas Ribeiro Costa’s spot kick.

After more jostling between the two teams in the remaining minutes, Mofokeng controlled a pass from Monnapule Saleng, skinned Bongani Zungu in the Sundowns box and placed the ball far beyond the reach of Ronwen Williams in goal. 

Saturday’s result saw the Soweto side retain the Nedbank Cup and win their second trophy of the season after vanquishing Sundowns 3-1 on penalties in the MTN8 final.

Orlando Pirates coach José Riveiro during the Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates joint press conference at Nedbank Offices on 30 May 2024 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Contrasting emotions

Pirates coach José Riveiro shied away from taking credit for the Soweto side’s success since his arrival in 2022, saying it was down to the technical team, the players and everyone else involved in the running of the club.

Spanish tactician Riveiro has been in charge of 20 knockout games, losing just one. He has reached four finals and won all of them. It’s an amazing achievement considering that before he took over, Pirates had won only one trophy in six years.

The sole dent in Riveiro’s growing reputation as a cup specialist came in the quarterfinals of the Carling Knockout Cup when Pirates played to a 0-0 draw against Richards Bay before the KwaZulu-Natal outfit progressed via a 5-4 win on penalties.

Riveiro’s Sundowns counterpart, Rulani Mokwena, who had an opportunity to lead his side to a treble after their African Football League and DStv Premiership successes this season, was despondent after defeat in the final game of the season.

“Every defeat leaves a deep scar. The pain is there for sure. It’s not about losing to Pirates or losing the cup final [specifically]. It’s about losing the match,” Mokwena said at his post-match press conference.

“Losing a match that still, in my heart, [I believe] we played well enough to win, hurts even more. The ones that you lose and you deserve to lose are a little easier to digest,” the 37-year-old said.  

“This group deserves a little bit more than what we’ve ended off with. We’ve had a fantastic season and played some incredible football. Under difficult circumstances, we’ve kept going until the very end. I mean, 57 games in one season is not easy.”  

Magnificent Mofokeng

It’s been only a year since Sharpeville-born winger Mofokeng made his senior debut for Orlando Pirates. Before that, the Bucs had placed the youngster (who was born in October 2004) in their reserve team so he could assimilate properly.

It didn’t take the School of Excellence academy product long to adjust to the environment. After some impressive displays in the DStv Diski Challenge, he was invited to train with the senior side. He made his senior debut towards the end of the 2022/2023 campaign.

This season the teenager has firmly established himself as a key component of the Sea Robbers. He made 38 appearances in all competitions, with a large chunk of those coming from the start. He scored five goals and provided a further six assists.  

However, Mofokeng’s contribution to Pirates this season exceeds quantification. He is a player who makes things happen, even when he is not directly part of the end product.

The attacker has established himself as a fans’ favourite during his short senior career. Yet, despite the attention, he has remained humble and focused.

“He’s taking his first steps at this level and is improving week after week. He’s becoming really complete as a football player and the future is really bright for him,” Riveiro said.

Mofokeng has also been rewarded with a maiden Bafana Bafana call-up by national team coach Hugo Broos. 

He is part of the group that will hope to help South Africa earn valuable points when they continue their 2026 Fifa World Cup qualification journey with clashes against Nigeria and Zimbabwe over the next two weeks.  

“I hope that he can continue to stay in the [psychological] space that he is in right now. How humble he is, how much he listens. How he is always trying to be more complete,” Riveiro said.

“That’s why he is where he is and that’s why the national team coach is also getting attracted by his qualities. He can only improve. He is smart, he is skilful and he loves to play football.”

Mofokeng has been nominated for Young Player of the Season in the upcoming Premier Soccer League awards, alongside SuperSport United duo Shandre Campbell and Ime Okon. His latest performance is likely to boost his high odds of claiming this accolade. DM 

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