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Tense title climax looms after Sundowns edge Chiefs

Soweto (South Africa) (AFP) – Title-holders Mamelodi Sundowns edged leaders Kaizer Chiefs 1-0 in Soweto Thursday to draw level on 53 points at the top of the South African Premiership table.

Chiefs remain top on goal difference (plus 21/plus 16), but German coach Ernst Middendorp was dejected at full-time knowing his side once held a 10-point lead in the richest African league.   

The result sets up a tense climax to a season halted for five months from March due to the coronavirus pandemic with South Africa having the fifth most Covid-19 cases in the world.

Chiefs face Bidvest Wits, Chippa United and Baroka in their run-in while Sundowns meet Baroka, Polokwane City and Black Leopards in a season that ends on September 5.

Uruguayan Gaston Sirino scored the only goal on 34 minutes behind closed doors at Orlando Stadium in Soweto to throw the title chase wide open.

He fired past Nigerian goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi for this third league goal of the season after being set up by a brilliant back-heel from Themba Zwane.

Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane rejected the view of the South African media that the Soweto showdown was the title decider.

“Chiefs are still top of the table and goal difference could decide which club becomes champions,” he said.

“People say that we should win our remaining three matches comfortably because they are against three of the last four clubs in the table.

“These clubs are fighting for survival and will prove very tough opponents. I would rather face teams whose Premiership status is secure.

– ‘Nerve racking’ – 

“We knew Chiefs would be a threat in the air and from set pieces and dealt well with those situations. 

“It was nerve racking in the closing stages defending a one-goal lead, but that was our fault as we had sufficient chances to have scored at least twice more.”

Chiefs lacked their first-choice forwards with Serb Samir Nurkovic suspended and Colombian Leonardo Castro injured, and off-form Zimbabwean Khama Billiat was dropped.

Middendorp gambled by picking rarely used Keletso Sifama as a wide midfielder and the move backfired with the ineffective teenager taken off at half-time.

His place went to Billiat, who has scored only once in the Premiership this season and wasted a late chance to equalise when he headed over from close range.

“We spent virtually the entire second half camped in Sundowns’ half and did not take several great scoring chances,” lamented Middendorp.

“Now we must prepare for our next match against Wits, who are unbeaten in six games since the league restarted.”

Chiefs have won a record 53 domestic trophies, but their last success came five years ago when they were crowned champions.

Meanwhile, fourth-place Wits and mid-table Bloemfontein Celtic preserved their unbeaten records since the restart by drawing 1-1 at the University of Pretoria.

Both goals came from first half penalties with Keegan Ritchie giving Wits an early lead that Celtic captain Ndumiso Mabena cancelled.

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