Mamelodi Sundowns successfully began their campaign in the new month with a hard fought 1 – 0 victory over Orlando Pirates in the DStv Premiership clash on Saturday afternoon in Soweto. Masandawana scored the only goal in the encounter through Cassius Mailula in the first half and went on to win the battle despite the Buccaneers efforts to find an equalizer. Downs Head Coach Rulani Mokwena summarized the performance of his team during the post-match press briefing and said:
“[It was] A very difficult game, two good sides, very dominant from Pirates I thought. But I also thought we had better chances also. We played the game the way a big game is supposed to be played. I was pleasantly surprised by how well we defended, normally we have to have the ball to defend but today we defended very, very well, there were no big chances in open play and we showed that we can play difficult games and respond to the situation. I have nothing but incredible respect and appreciation for this group of players. If I were to rate it out of 10, not the performance as a whole, I would give it a 15/10.”
“We played a very good side, this could’ve easily been a Champions League away match. When we struggled in the past to keep clean sheet against very good sides, today we didn’t give away too many chances to Pirates except on set pieces and for sure they had some very good situations on set pieces and they played for that and I thought we had the better chances even though they had the better share of the ball and they were very dominant in possession, but I thought we defended very, very well today.”
The defending Champions called Bafana Bafana international goalie Ronwen Williams back into the squad, including Teboho Mokwena and Themba Zwane who did not feature in the previous encounter due to suspension. Coach Rulani highlighted the importance of playing different players during this time as they are faced with a heavy fixture schedule. “We are the only team that has played eight games in January and that called for rotation, that called for not really to refresh the team but to give everyone in the team an opportunity to play because we’ve got a big squad and the only way to keep everyone happy is to try to give minutes to everybody and they’ve done exceptionally well.”
21-year old striker Mailula has been bagging goals for Masandawana since opening his scoring account in the Caf Champions League in October, 2022. Mailula has become a regular starter in the first eleven for the Tshwane giants and is currently in the books of the top goalscorers in the domestic league with six goals along with his teammate Peter Shalulile who is three goals ahead of the young star.
“The win is a good win, we still remain extremely humble even in victory. Don’t watch the goal, watch the contribution throughout the 90 minutes [there’s still] so much to improve. The one action on the transition the decision making let him down, [he is] still very young and still so much coaching to be done. Offensive players have to improve by experiencing these situations and getting better, but [I am] very proud of him, very proud of the team [though] we still have a lot of work to do to improve.” Coach Rulani commented on Mailula’s goal scoring performance.
Just as the yellow nation welcomed Mailula from their development team into the senior team, another gem was brought forward in the midst of the heated encounter against the Sea Robbers, Jerome Karelse who has caused a spark in the DStv Diski Challenge. Karelse is known to be the first player to score three consecutive braces in the Diski Challenge competition and scored 11 goals to become the Diski challenge leading goal scorer. The Brazilians Coach noted the importance of the young player to be surrounded by experienced players in the Sundowns camp to contribute to his development.
“He can only get better. He’s privileged to be playing with some of the best players in the country and the continent for sure, he gets to experience this and [I am] very proud of him. He’s doing a lot of work with us, lots of video analysis and lots of training. We have to give these kids a chance, his peers are playing in the World Cup, maybe one or two years too late, but we have to give them an opportunity.”
“You’re never too young, I’m a demonstration of that and therefore I also have to give opportunities to people and especially when they show the willingness to be coached, the talent for sure and the work ethic. He can only get better by learning and being around some very, very talented football players.”
Mamelodi Sundowns will be back in action when they next face Richards Bay at home on Tuesday, 7 February in the Nedbank Cup round of 32.