Royal AM 1-2 Mamelodi Sundowns: Safranko fires Masandawana into 11th Nedbank Cup final –

Mamelodi Sundowns reached the Nedbank Cup final for the 11th time after defeating Royal AM 2-1 in a semi-final match at Chatsworth Stadium on Saturday night.

Two second half goals from Aubrey Modiba and Pavol Safranko inspired Masandawana to a victory while Thabo Matlaba netted what proved to be Thwihli Thwahla’s consolation goal. As a result, Sundowns’ ambition of clinching a domestic treble in the current season is still alive having already won the MTN8 title and PSL championship. 

The Tshwane giants’ decision to drop Themba Zwane to the bench raised a few eyebrows with Sundowns having failed to win their last three competitive matches including Wednesday’s 0-0 draw against Cape Town City. Co-head coaches Manqoba Mngqithi and Rhulani Mokwena handed Safranko a rare start as he joined Neo Maema and Peter Shalulile in the front three. 

On the other hand, Mxolisi Macuphu and Victor Macuphu led the attack for Royal having netted 24 goals between them in the current campaign, but they were contained by AmaZulu FC as the two KwaZulu-Natal sides drew 0-0 last weekend. Thwihli Thwahla were enjoying a 12-match unbeaten run across all competitions under their coach John Maduka. 

The match got off to a tense start with both teams looking to string together a series of passes, but Royal were not willing to sit back and allow Sundowns to play their usual enterprising football. The play had to be delayed for five minutes after Brian Mandela had picked up an injury after he denied Macuphu with a great block from close range. 

Masandwana grew into the match gradually after play resumed and they began creating half-chances, but they couldn’t keep their shots on target. Safranko found Maema with a slick pass and the latter ballooned his effort over the crossbar, before Shalulile was afforded space and time to shoot from inside Thwihli Thwahla’s box, but he placed his attempt wide of the target.

Royal finished the first half the stronger of the two teams and Sundowns were forced to make an early change as injured Mandela was replaced by left-back Divine Lunga, who operated as a centre back. Andile Jali produced an incredible block to deny Letsoalo inside the visitors’ box and the score was 0-0 during the half-time break following a first-half which had no shots on target. 

Masandawana upped the tempo after the restart as they constantly launched attacks and they were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the Thwihli Thwahla box after Safranko was fouled by Matlaba. Aubrey Modiba then stepped up and beat goalkeeper Patrick Nyame from the set-piece with a curling shot to hand Sundowns a 1-0 lead in the 62nd minute.

The hosts responded by applying pressure on the newly crowned PSL champions and they managed to level matters as Matlaba made amends for conceding the free-kick which led to the opening goal. The former Orlando Pirates captain fired past keeper Denis Onyango with a rasping shot to make it 1-1 in the 72nd minute with Kabelo Mahlasela providing the assist.

However, parity was only restored for only four minutes as Masandawana pressed up high and forced Nyame into making a mistake with Shalulile blocking the Cameroonian shot-stopper’s attempted shot and the ball fell kindly for Safranko. The Slovakia international made no mistake as he fired a low shot into the back of the net to seal Sundowns’ 2-1 victory.

Therefore, Sundowns progressed to the final where they will take on defending champions Marumo Gallants at Royal Bafokeng Stadium on May 28, while Royal bowed out of the lucrative tournament. Masandawana will now take on Sekhukhune United in a PSL match on Tuesday, while Royal are scheduled to face Maritzburg United on Wednesday in a league clash. 

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