AmaZulu put up a brave fight but ultimately succumbed 1-0 at the hands of Orlando Pirates in the MTN8 final at Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday evening.
Usuthu’s hopes of winning a first major trophy in the PSL era were scuppered by the Buccaneers’ Monnapule Saleng, who scored the only goal of the game midway through the first half.
The open chances for each team arrived either side of the 10-minute mark, with Olisa Ndah heading over from a corner kick for Pirates, before Larry Bwalya flashed an ambitious shot off target for AmaZulu.
The Buccaneers threatened a goal on 12 minutes when Thabiso Monyane’s lobbed cross-shot was tipped over the crossbar by goalkeeper Veli Mothwa. The shot-stopper was called on again in the 16th minute to keep out a header from Monnapule Saleng, though the attacker had been flagged offside.
Pirates kept up the attacking pressure and were rewarded in the 25th minute when Saleng scored direct from a free kick, with the forward whipping home a left-footed, in-swinging shot from the right flank.
AmaZulu were also forced into an unscheduled substitution due to injury, with Mbongeni Gumede coming off the bench to replace Ramahlwe Mphahlele (who was hurt in a collision with Pirates goalkeeper Richard Ofori) just after the half-hour mark.
Usuthu were close to an equaliser in injury time at the end of the first half, with Ofori forced to back-pedal and tip George Maluleka’s strike from a free kick over the crossbar, leaving the game 1-0 in favour of Bucs at the break.
The teams each made a change at the start of the second half, with Pirates’ Monyane replaced by Bandile Shandu, while AmaZulu swapped out striker Augustine Kwem for veteran goal-getter Lehlohonolo Majoro.
The first clear chance after the restart went the way of Bucs, with Ndabayithethwa Ndlondlo shooting straight into the arms of Mothwa in the 53rd minute, yet it was AmaZulu who made most of the attacking play up to the hour mark, before they freshened up their forward line with the introduction of Dumisani Zuma.
Usuthu were agonisingly close to levelling the game in a frantic passage of play on 64 minutes which saw Majoro’s header crash onto the crossbar, before Thapelo Xoki managed to clear ahead of Zuma on the rebound.
The team in green also had a couple of strong penalty appeals turned down, before Pirates looked to turn the tide of momentum by introducing Vincent Pule in place of Kermit Erasmus for the final quarter-hour of regulation time.
AmaZulu continued to be the team creating the majority of attacking pressure in the dying minutes, though a killer goal on the counter for Pirates also became more and more of a possibility as the Durban side threw men forward – yet neither side was able to capitalise on their openings, leaving the score 1-0 in favour of the Buccaneers at the final whistle.
Orlando Pirates (1) 1 (Saleng 25’)
Pirates: Ofori, Monyane (Shandu 46’), Ndah, Sibisi (Mako 5’), Xoki, Timm, Motshwari, Ndlondlo (Dlamini 88’), Hotto, Saleng (Eva Nga 88’), Erasmus (Pule 75’)
AmaZulu: Mothwa, Sikhakhane, Mphahlele (Gumede 32’), Mobara, Hanamub, Makhaula, Bwalya, Maluleka (Ndlovu 81’), Maduna (Brooks 81’), Mhango (Zuma 60’), Kwem (Majoro 46’)