Monnapule Saleng added to Orlando Pirates’ 85th anniversary celebrations with an exquisite free kick that earned the Buccaneers a winner-takes-all R8m and their 11th top eight trophy.
Saleng’s 25th-minute goal was enough to give the Buccaneers a 1-0 victory over AmaZulu FC at Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday, defeating a Durban side looking to cap their 90th anniversary celebration with this MTN8 trophy.
Pirates is winning the trophy for the fourth time (they won it in 2010, 2011, and 2020) and will keep it forever as the current sponsors, who are celebrating 15 years with the PSL this season, have said they will design a new one for future seasons.
The game was always stacked in favor of the Buccaneers, especially in the first 45 minutes when Usuthu keeper Veli Mothwa was the busiest.
Mothwa, on the other hand, was guilty of failing to read Saleng’s free kick, which hit the roof of the net, giving the Bucs striker his third goal of the tournament after scoring a brace in the semifinals against defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns.
There were always concerns that the Pirates, despite being overwhelming favourites heading into this match, would disappoint their adoring fans at this iconic Durban venue. Since 2013, Pirates had lost seven of nine cup finals, three of which were in Caf club competitions and the other four in the domestic league.
In 2018, they suffered a shock defeat to Baroka FC in the Telkom Knockout final in Gqeberha. Saleng, Ndabayithethwa Ndlondlo, Timm Miguel, and Kermit Erasmus were among the Bucs players who took the game to Usuthu.
Overall, this game lacked the fervour associated with a championship game. In the second half, Pirates decided to play deep into their own half, allowing AmaZulu to attack them while they had the ball.
AmaZulu substitutes Lehlohonolo Majoro and Dumsani Zuma increased their team’s attacking options, but Bucs held on to their lead thanks to goalkeeper Richard Ofori’s clutch saves.
Pirates coach Jose Riveiro made two forced changes from the team that lost 1-0 to Soweto rivals Kaizer Chiefs last week, with goalkeeper Siyabonga Mpontshane appearing to pay the price for his error that led to Yusuf Maart’s lone goal in the Soweto derby.
Bucs captain Innocent Maela also sat in the stands after failing a late fitness test following an injury sustained in last week’s Soweto derby.
Ghanaian goalkeeper Richard Ofori, who had missed the Pirates’ previous four matches due to injury, improved his chances of representing his country at the Fifa World Cup in Qatar later this month, while Thapelo Xoki replaced Maela in a Pirates defence that started with three central defenders.
Usuthu had the honour of being watched and supported by newly-crowned Zulu king Misuzulu kaZwelithini as they attempted to win a second cup competition in SA football after winning one 30 years ago when the king was only an 18-year-old prince and their French-born coach Romain Folz was only a two-year-old toddler.
Though defeated, there was no denying that Usuthu were the better side in the final 45 minutes, pinning Bucs down in their own half while trying to create openings.
With no Caf commitments to contend with this season, Bucs will be expected to compete for more PSL titles. However, Pirates’ performance in this match, as well as the fact that they have already lost four league matches in 13 outings, suggests that they will need to step up their game and not rely solely on Saleng to provide them with a result as significant as the one they received here.