Soweto (South Africa) (AFP) – Kaizer Chiefs clung to first place in the South African Premiership Sunday despite a heartbreaking loss after closest rivals Mamelodi Sundowns later suffered a stunning defeat.
A stoppage-time goal from Cameroonian Bienvenu Eva Nga gave Bidvest Wits a 1-0 victory over Chiefs at Soccer City stadium in Soweto.
The result opened the door for Sundowns to move to the top, but they blew the chance by falling 1-0 to lowly Baroka with Namibian Ananias Gebhardt scoring in another Soweto stadium.
Sundowns’ setback left them level on 53 points with Chiefs, but trailing on goal difference (plus 20/plus 15) with two rounds remaining in the richest African league.
The final rounds will be played this Wednesday and Saturday with Chiefs facing Chippa United and Baroka while Sundowns meet Polokwane City and Black Leopards.
Chiefs appear to have a slightly easier schedule as Chippa are safe from relegation while Sundowns’ opponents occupy the last two places in the table and are desperate for points.
Wits (49 points) and SuperSport United (47) still have mathematical chances of finishing first and snatching the record 15 million rand ($905,000/760,000 euros) first prize.
But despite the poor form of Chiefs and Sundowns since the league resumed on August 11 after a five-month suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic, one of them looks likely to succeed.
Chasing a first trophy since 2015, traditional giants Chiefs have secured just five points from a possible 18 and Sundowns nine of the 21 on offer.
– Nurkovic biggest culprit –
German coach Ernst Middendorp called the defeat by Wits a “disaster” as his side wasted several scoring chances with usually clinical Serb Samir Nurkovic the biggest culprit.
He had only to tap the ball into an open net to put Chiefs ahead in the final minute of regular time, but opted for power and blazed the ball over the crossbar.
“I cannot fault the fighting spirit of my players, but we must convert our chances to win matches and should have got two or three goals today,” lamented Middendorp.
Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane, who has guided the Pretoria club to three Premiership titles in the past four seasons, blamed sloppy defending for the loss to Baroka.
“Slack marking cost us dearly. We did not pick up their players for a corner and that goal completely changed the complexion of the match.
“The last thing you want to do against opponents who are fighting for survival is fall behind. I thought we would be hungrier than them tonight, but I was wrong.”
It was only the seventh victory in 28 league matches for Baroka from northern city Polokwane and lifted them to 13th, two points above the relegation zone.
Just as the title chase looks set for a tense finish, so does the fight to avoid demotion, which carries serious financial consequences.
The club finishing last in the Premiership pockets 440,000 rand — 140,000 more than the winners of the second division.
Since the league restarted behind closed doors, matches have been confined to eight venues in Johannesburg, Soweto and Pretoria to try and curb the spread of the Covid-19 illness.
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