Zaahier Adams takes a closer look at five key duels that could decide the contest between Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates in their Nedbank Cup quarter-final at Loftus.
CAPE TOWN – Mamelodi Sundowns co-coach Rhulani Mokwena aptly claimed that their Nedbank Cup quarter-final clash against Orlando Pirates today is the “final before the final”.
We take a closer look at five key duels that could decide the contest at Loftus.
1. Peter Shalulile (Sundowns) vs Happy Jele (Pirates)
Shalulile has lived up to his hefty price tag since joining the Brazilians from Highlands Park at the beginning of the season. In fact the Namibian marksman has been in red-hot form, with the 27-year-old currently boasting 16 goals and 16 assists from 26 matches.
He will once again lead Sundowns’ attack today and it will be Pirates captain Jele’s task of keeping Shalulile quiet. The veteran defender has once again produced consistent performances this season for the Buccaneers.
He showed his value upon return from injury in their victory over Al Ahli Benghazi in the Caf Confederation Cup clash this past weekend. The winner of this battle could decide the outcome of the clash.
2. Thapelo Morena (Sundowns) vs Deon Hotto (Pirates)
They don’t call Morena “The Speedster” for nothing. The Sundowns right-back is easily one of the fastest players in the Premiership, and is certainly racing all the way to the top, having secured the role not only at Sundowns but also Bafana Bafana. He will certainly need to be at his best to keep Pirates’ Hotto at bay.
Another Namibian international, Hotto is an equally explosive left wing with pace to burn. He has already left many defenders in his dust and is Pirates’ leading goalscorer with seven goals and seven assists this season. He operates as a false nine under coach Josef Zinnbauer.
3. Themba Zwane (Sundowns) vs Ben Motshwari (Pirates)
Sundowns have an array of superstars littered all around the field, but it’s Zwane who is the real magician. The midfield maestro is often the one who conjures up a piece of magic when his team really needs it.
He also forms a dynamic partnership with Lebohang Maboe in the midfield. Pirates, though, have their own craftsman in Motshwari. The Bafana international quietly goes about his business and will pose an equal threat to Sundowns.
4. Rivaldo Coetzee (Sundowns) vs Fortune Makaringe (Pirates)
Although the former Ajax Cape Town prodigy remains one of the best central defenders in South Africa, Coetzee’s conversion to a defensive midfielder has proved a masterstroke.
The 24-year-old covers acres on the park. His role will be crucial in cutting off the supply line to Makaringe, who has been a constant presence in Pirates’ line-up this season.
5. Denis Onyango (Sundowns) vs Wayne Sandilands (Pirates)
Sundowns have been blessed with a pillar of consistency in goal in Onyango for a number of years now. The No.1 spot at Pirates, meanwhile, has been a revolving door with veteran Wayne Sandilands recently being restored between the sticks at the expense Ghana international Richard Ofori.