All hail King Pitso as Sundowns secure 9th PSL title
Sundowns clinch title as Free State Stars go to NFD
Whoever wrote the script in Bethlehem delivered a finale of full-blown suspense and contrasting raw emotions.
When referee Eugene Mdluli blew the final whistle at about 5pm because of the delayed kickoff, the Brazilians were crowned champions of the Premier Soccer League (PSL) and Free State Stars were relegated to the National First Division (NFD) after 12 years in the paid ranks.
Sundowns, playing in their 50th match of the season in all competitions since August when they opened the season against Kaizer Chiefs, ended with an unassailable 59 points, two ahead of Orlando Pirates.
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Sundowns have now won nine PSL titles and this will surely go a long way in erasing the bitter memories of last weekend when they failed to qualify for their second Champions League final after they lost 2-1 to Wydad Casablanca on aggregate.
It is also the latest layer of the genius of coach Pitso Mosimane, who has won four league titles in just over five years at Chloorkop. He joins an exclusive list of celebrated mentors: Jeff Butler, Gordon Igesund, Ted Dumitru and Gavin Hunt who have achieved the same feat.
There was another milestone for Sundowns' industrious captain Hlompho Kekana and goalkeeper Denis Onyango who have joined former SuperSport United and Pirates winger Daine Klate as the three most decorated players in the PSL with six league titles each.
Kekana again led with aplomb in midfield to further enhance his status as frontrunner for the coveted Player of the Season award where he faces a strong challenge from Thembinkosi Lorch of Pirates.
Onyango will also have a shout for the goalkeeper of the season after a good season. Relegation to the NFD will definitely be bitter for Stars inspirational captain Paulus Masehe, who has already announced his retirement from the game.
Sundowns' victory is an indictment of the rest of the teams in the PSL because the Brazilians were playing in the group stages of last season's Champions League, where they failed to progress to the knockout stages, when everyone was in pre-season.
Sundowns came to Goble Park with a simple mission of winning by any margin and they managed to achieve this through a solitary goal by Phakamani Mahlambi three minutes from the half-time break.
Mahlambi was on the field for only five minutes when he landed the decisive blow after he came on as a forced substitute for influential midfielder Gaston Sirino, who could not continue after he was roughed up by a Stars defender.
When they made their way back to the dressing room at half-time, Stars, who started the match third form the bottom, were sitting dangerously at the foot of the table and were relegated to the NFD because of the results of other matches involving teams in the drop zone.
Sundowns dominated the opening exchanges with their best chances falling for Lebohang Maboe, whose close-range header could not find the target, and Kekana who blasted the ball at Stars goalkeeper Alli Sangare instead of laying it off to the better-positioned Sirino.
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With Pirates leading in Johannesburg, the Brazilians upped their tempo and they created two attacks in quick succession around the 25th minute through Sirino and Themba Zwane but the Stars defence stood firm.
Though Sundowns created most of the chances, Stars also had their moments in the attack and their most notable was on the half- hour mark when Katlego Mokhuoane forced a good save out of Denis Onyango.
Free State Stars 0
Mamelodi Sundowns (1) 1
GOALS: Sundowns- Phakamani Mahlambi (43m)