It was only towards the end of last week that I actually realised Sundowns were playing Highlands Park on Sunday, in a fixture crammed into the schedule by the Premier Soccer League, desperate to make up ground in the time lost by Masandawana’s Caf Champions League success, and the time that will be lost by their participation in the Fifa Club World Cup in December.
I have to admit that when the Brazilians were knocked out of the Telkom Knockout by SuperSport United on November 5, I thought they may have hit the proverbial wall, that a year of non-stop football would surely put a spanner in their ambitions of defending their league title too.
Sundowns’ response? Three straight home wins, with Kaizer Chiefs edged out, high-flying Golden Arrows soundly beaten and Highlands Park, on Sunday, absolutely lynched.
Arrows and Highlands were battered basically completely without the highly revered “CBD” of last season – Leonardo Castro, Khama Billiat and Keagan Dolly (Castro, for the record, played 13 minutes of the Arrows game with Sundowns already 3-0 up. Dolly and Billiat have both been injured). Percy Tau, Anthony Laffor and Sibusiso Vilakazi are busy perfectly illustrating the depth of squad at Pitso Mosimane’s beck and call. Vilakazi’s form was being questioned, but now he has three goals in three games, the one against Highlands Park his best yet.
Laffor has shown up almost every time he has been called on this year, whether with his hat-trick in sealing last season’s title, his brilliance in the Champions League final, or with another cracker on Sunday. And Tau has been a complete revelation. This was a player who looked a little surplus to Mosimane’s plans last season, who looked like he could be another youngster to sparkle and then fade away in the Chloorkop production line.
But now he is impossible to drop for Mosimane, providing three assists to go with the opening goal against Highlands. The proof is conclusive – Sundowns have the power to deal with a fixture pile-up and are going to be there or thereabouts in the title race at the end of the season.
Tshwane continues to have plenty of reasons to be proud right now – it was SuperSport United, remember, who won the Nedbank Cup last season while Sundowns won the league. And as Sundowns have now been crowned champions of Africa, Stuart Baxter’s Matsatsantsa have also made progress in their own way, progressing to the Telkom Knockout final.
SuperSport’s 1-0 win over Orlando Pirates on Saturday was, in a sense, more impressive than their 6-1 league hammering of the Buccaneers at the start of the month. Baxter’s side had to show a different kind of mettle, their defence holding out superbly in Nelspruit.
They will face Cape Town City in the TKO final, a side that have done amazingly well to reach a cup showpiece just a few months after being created. Eric Tinkler has done an amazing job – his side were level on points at the top of the league too at the time of writing – though he was certainly helped by the solid group of players inherited from the MP Black Aces franchise.
The New Kids on the Block are a massive hit so far.