Onyango made a great save in the second half
Chippa United came to their fortress at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium determined to upset the Tshwane giants.
Their tails were up following recent victories over Orlando Pirates and, in the quarter-finals, Platinum Stars who they dispatched with disdain.
The Sundowns brains trust had anticipated a possession game from Dan Malesela’s side. And it turned out to be just that. Malesela has turned Chippa into a well-oiled machine, and they came at Sundowns with short passing that had the fans screaming for more. But they were playing against the champions of South Africa, and most of the possession by Chippa was restricted to the middle of the park.
The game kicked off at a furious pace, with end-to-end play. Sundowns’ talisman Khama Billiat, who is probably the target for the most hard tackles, was once more under the cosh as both the Chippa midfielders and captain Thami Sangweni put a double marker on him, and Keagan Dolly was kept quiet on the wing.
There were no clear scoring chances, but Sundowns had the most shots at goal and on target, with Denis Onyango having to play bit roles from back passes most of the time.
Brazillian Ricardo Nascimento seems to have settled in quite well at the back in his pairing with Wayne Arendse, and with captain Hlompho Kekana putting in the usual hard work in the midfield, and his diagonal passes opening opportunities up front, they gave Chippa a fright several times.
But on those occasions when they broke through, Sundowns’ Percy Tau was often adjudged to be off-side, with subsequent television replays showing that he was not. Perhaps the best chance for Sundowns came when Nascimento nodded the ball after beating the Chippa defenders. The ball went just tantalisingly past the upright.
It came as no surprise when the interval whistle came with the score at 0 – 0.
In the second half, Coach Pitso Mosimane brought on Ivorian Yannick Zakri for Tau in the 53rd minute. Zakri made an immediate impact as he cut in from the left and had the Chippa defence back pedalling. He brought a spark to the attack.
Tackles were once more flowing, and with Kekana on a yellow card, the coach decided to replace him with Lucky Mohomi. The Mamelodi hard man fought for all the balls in the middle, and with Zakri probing, Chippa were put on the back foot.
Then Denis Onyango was forced into a brilliant save, perhaps the only time he was really tested.
Zakri came close when he cut in from the left, and turned to shoot for the far corner, forcing the Chippa goalkeeper into a desperate dive. But once more, the ball just curved past the upright.
The coach also brought on Thapelo Morena for Sibusiso Vilakazi, and once more Sundowns changed a gear up.
With the minutes ticking by, it became clear that Chippa were intent not to let the champions get a crucial away goal, and when the final whistle came, the score still stood at 0 – 0.
Mosimane said afterwards that he would have preferred victory, or settle for a 1 – 1 draw rather than goalless, but enthused about the quality of football that the two teams dished out on the day.
The two sides now have to do it all over again – but this time Sundowns will have the home advantage in the second leg.
Mamelodi Sundowns: Denis Onyango, Siyanda Zwane, Wayne Arendse, Ricardo Nascimento, Tebogo Langerman, Tyani Mabunda, Hlompho Kekana (Lucky Mohomi 70′), Keagan Dolly, Khama Billiat, PercyTau (Yannick Zakri 53′), Sibusiso Vilakazi (Thapelo Morena 80′).
Chippa United: Akpeyi, Okwuosa, Thopola, Van Heerden, Kama, Sali (Masuku 90+1′), Sangweni, Mbenyane, Wambi, Lorch , R Manzini (Bereng 45′).