Free State Stars were crowned 2018 Nedbank Cup champions after defeating Maritzburg United 1-0 at the Cape Town Stadium, writes MARSHALL GOUTS.
The clash got off to a cagey start with neither side wanting to commit too much in terms of numbers going forward. Maritzburg had the first shot at goal in the first minute of the game when Fortune Makaringe let rip from distance, but his effort was tame and wide.
Striker Siphelele Mthembu gave the Maritzburg defence a torrid time in the opening exchanges with his physicality while the likes of Rushine De Reuck and Bandile Shandu struggled to contain the former Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates forward.
El La Koto began to dominate proceedings, with veteran midfielder Paulus Masehe doing well to thwart out the influence of Lebohang Maboe and Siphesihle Ndlovu.
Maboe reminded the Cape Town crowd of his quality when he sprung to life in the 12th minute as a lively run saw him beat two defenders, but he was brought down before his pass could lead to a three-versus-three situation.
Deolin Mekoa came close to supplying the opener, but his cross was headed over the crossbar by Ndlovu.
A number of players were forced to change their boots due to the slippery conditions of the pitch at Cape Town Stadium.
Maritzburg had the first official shot on target in the 33rd minute, when Bangaly Keita’s misplaced pass gave Andrea Fileccia a sniff at goal, but the Belgian’s chipped effort was easily collected by Thela Ngobeni.
The Team of Choice again came agonisingly close to opening the scoring five minutes later, but captain Bevan Fransman’s header from a free kick was stopped by Ngobeni.
Ngobeni made another telling save from a well-worked move from Maritzburg moments before half-time. The resultant attack from Stars saw them take the lead after Mthembu played in Goodman Dlamini who made no mistake with a good curling effort.
Fadlu Davids made the first change of the game as Motsie Matima replaced De Reuck in the second stanza. Maritzburg signalled their intent to attack, but Stars had all 11 players behind the ball and looked dangerous on the counter-attack.
Maritzburg made another attacking change in the 66th minute when Mekoa made way for Mxolisi Kunene.
Despite being a goal down, Davids’ side continued to play their usual brand of carpet football, which didn’t garner much success in the first stanza.
Winger Sinethemba Jantjie, who was still full of energy, was replaced by defender Katlego Mashego as Eymael looked to see off the game.
Maritzburg were denied a penalty appeal by the referee in the 75th minute, which had their whole bench up in arms for an apparent handball by Stars.
The last 10 minutes of the clash was played at a frightening pace as the team in blue desperately looked to grab an equaliser, while Stars were content on parking the bus.
Maritzburg launched numbers forward in a bid to equalise and proved wasteful with efforts by Makaringe and Xulu.
Free State Stars stood their ground to thwart off the wave of attacks launched by Maritzburg to run out 1-0 victors and secure their first trophy since winning the Coca Cola Cup in 1994.
Maritzburg United: 31. Fori, 16. Fransman, 25. Xulu, 26. Shandu, 3. Sanoka, 15, Maboe, 23. De Reuck, 11. Makaringe, 8. Ndlovu, 9. Fileccia, 28. Mekoa.
Subs: 1. Mpandle, 18. Eksteen, 14. Matima, 36. Kunene, 22. Mokate, 10. Atouba, 6. Tlhone.
Free State Stars: 32. Ngobeni, 5. Masehe, 2. Mobbie, 28. Mahamutsa, 22. Keita, 29. Phungwayo, 21. Mthembu, 27. Tchilimbou, 26. Dlamini, 11. Jantjie, 50. Vilakazi.
Photo: Gallo Images