Mabunda’s superb solo first half effort coupled with a second half strike from PSL Player of the Year Khama Billiat capped of a valuable away win and 3 points for the Tshwane giants.
Billiat had been the target of some rough play, including elbows and slaps across the face which often went unpunished by the Malian referee.
The victory was also marred by angry fans who pelted the players with missiles in referee’s optional time, forcing a halt to proceedings for about ten minutes before the referee decided to call it quits.
It was a well-executed performance by Sundowns as they tore into the Algerian side looking to grab a crucial away goal. But Setif’s defence strategy was clear: close down Billiat. The nippy Zimbabwean was played off the ball, kicked and bullied, but he showed just why he has been such a critical cog in the Sundowns outfit.
The midfield pairing of Mabunda and hard man Hlompho Kekana contained the best Setif could offer as the Algerians ran at Sundowns but their attacks were well contained. And then came the moment of brilliance as the two midfield men surged forward, and from range, Mabunda shot into the top corner, beating the Algerian goalkeeper hands down, clutching at air.
The goal was clearly one which said to the Tshwane giants “Yes We Can”. They continued their attacks, keeping Setif on the back foot.
Sundowns took the one-goal lead into the halftime break, and in the second half, they came out looking for a second goal. The Algerians, with their hard running, came out fighting, but exposed themselves to counters. An intercept by Keagan Dolly started one such counter. He pushed the ball to Billiat, who took on the Algerian defenders, then finished neatly to break the Algerian resolve.
The hosts threw everything into their attack, sending on additional attacking players, but Sundowns defence would hear nothing about that. Thabo Nthete, wearing the captain’s arm band, Asavele “Shoes” Mbekile, Siyanda Zwane and Wayne Arendse matched the Algerians every step of the way. They cut off attacks, and occasionally, Wayne Sandilands was made to intercept high crosses and corners, and sending off his midfield with pinpoint distribution.
Sundowns were in control, and coach Pitso Mosimane sent on Botswana international Mogakolodi Ngele for Leonardo Castro. The Algerians continued to rough up Sundowns players, particularly Billiat, and a blatant slap across the face of Billiat went unpunished, with the Zimbabwean ending up on the turf several times. Then Mabunda was roughed up, and he was pulled off with veteran Teko Modise coming on.
In referee’s optional time, with Sundowns having assured victory, the crowd erupted into chaos, and coach Mosimane called his players to safety as they had to duck missiles. The match officials pondered what next to do, and after a harrowing ten minutes, decided to call it quits with the Tshwane champions taking a healthy 2 – 0 lead into the econ leg