TS Galaxy are the first team through to the Carling Knockout Cup quarter-finals after beating Mamelodi Sundowns in a penalty shootout after it ended 2-2 after 120 minutes at the Mbombela Stadium on Wednesday night.
It was an exciting start to the Carling Knockout Cup tournament, a game that featured goals, cards, the shootout and enough drama to send the Nelspruit supporters home entertained.
With the match being played less than 24 hours after Bafana Bafana’s draw with the Ivory Coast in Abidjan, Sundowns were without seven players who were part of the national team. However due to Downs’ participation in the African Super League this weekend, this was the only date available for this tie.
But despite those absentees, and seven others unavailable due to injuries, with Sundowns’ incomparable first-team depth, Rulani Mokwena was still able to field a very strong starting line-up. Sead Ramovic’s Galaxy team had a very familiar feel about it, though there was a first start for Rwandan goalkeeper Fiacre Ntwari, who was preferred to Vasilije Kolak for this cup game.
It was Mokwena’s team with the early control of possession, and the first real chance came in the sixth minute, but Rivaldo Coetzee’s glancing header from captain-on-the-day Marcelo Allende’s free-kick went wide of Ntwari’s goal.
But it was Galaxy who struck first, very much against the run of play. A wayward goal kick from Reyaad Pieterse led to a Galaxy counter, and the impressive Kamogelo Sebelebele found Higor Vidal as he ran into the box and Vidal’s low cross was missed as Bongani Zungu and Pieterse got their wires crossed, and Sphiwe Mahlangu slid in to get it over the line.
The goal gave Galaxy a boost of confidence and after another Sebelebele-led attack, it was 2-0 in the 16th minute. From the resulting corner kick, Mlungisi Mbunjana rose above Zungu to reach Vidal’s cross and the sturdy midfielder steered the ball past a helpless Pieterse.
Lebohang Maboe fired wide in the 20th minute, and then on another counter, Lehlohonolo Mojela was allowed space to shoot in the 23rd minute, but his final effort was wide of Pieterse’s goal.
Sundowns were the team however doing the pressing, and Zungu had an opportunity to score in the 26th minute but his header was too high to trouble Ntwari. Three minutes later Neo Maema went on a good run down the left before setting up Allende, who forced a neat save from Ntwari. Allende went wide in the 34th minute from a set piece, slipping as he hit the free kick.
Tackles were flying in, and both teams were perhaps lucky to go into the halftime break with all their numbers intact. It remained 2-0 to Galaxy.
There was a good chance for Junior Mendieta in the 51st minute, but Ntwari did well to stop his powerful shot from the left of goal. Moments later Zungu’s long-range effort was deflected behind.
While the goals weren’t coming, the yellow cards were, and by the 55th minute, 8 yellow cards had been issued, including one for Ramovic for his remonstrations on the sidelines.
A fantastic strike from Allende in the 57th minute made it 2-1, the Chilean firing a powerful low shot from outside the box into the left corner.
Sundowns must’ve felt they were back in it, but a minute later more drama ensued, as Bongani Zungu was shown a straight red card for a horror tackle on Bernard Parker. While Zungu remonstrated, there could be no arguments, as it looked potentially career-ending.
Despite being down to ten, it was Sundowns who continued to do the pressing, and they thought they had a penalty in the 67th minute for handball, but it wasn’t given.
A header was on target from Coetzee in the 72nd minute, but Ntwari got down well to deny the equaliser. He saved again a minute later as Mendieta fired in a shot from outside the box.
For the last 15 minutes, Mokwena rang the changes, as they pushed to level things, but Galaxy were defending with all they had, and Downs, while having all the possession, were finding it difficult to break into the final third.
Mendieta fired over in the 85th minute, while Thabang Rakwena, in a rare second-half chance for Galaxy, fired straight at Pieterse a minute later.
Time was running out for Sundowns, but they almost grabbed the equaliser with three minutes of stoppage time remaining but debutant Keametswe Ramotsei was stopped by Ntwari.
Another defensive mix-up almost led to a goal, but Galaxy survived, and just when it looked like they would hold on for a shock victory, the dramatic evening took another twist when Gaston Sirino, in his first Sundowns appearance of the 2023/24 season, saw his deflected effort in the back of the net.
Sirino’s strike to make it 2-2 was the final kick of regulation time, and extra time was needed.
Mendieta had a chance nine minutes into extra time, but couldn’t get a proper connection to the cross from Lesiba Nku and Pogiso Sanoka was able to clear. Three minutes later at the other end, Samir Nurkovic’s header failed to trouble Pieterse.
Sirino’s effort in the 103rd minute took a deflection, and another call for a handball was turned down.
With legs tiring, and few chances in the second half of extra time, it looked like a penalty shootout was going to be needed to separate the two.
Galaxy had a chance in the final minute of extra time when they were awarded a dangerous free kick just outside the box, and Mpho Mvelase was inches away from being the hero as his header struck the crossbar and went over.
And so a penalty shootout, Sundowns’ second in as many matches, was needed to decide the winner.
Ntwari saved Brian Onyango’s penalty and Sundowns were on the back foot from round, but Sundowns were back in it when Vladimir Siladi hit the post with Galaxy’s fourth penalty, and Pieterse was able to deflect it away.
It went to sudden death, Nurkovic scored his, but Ntwari saved Nku’s and Sundowns lost a second shootout in a row.
Galaxy booked their place in the last eight, but end of the road for Sundowns, who were technically the defending champions, having won the Telkom Knockout back in 2019, when the KO tournament last took place.
Carling Knockout Cup action resumes on Friday evening when Orlando Pirates hosts Cape Towns Spurs.
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