Rulani Mokwena praised his side’s fighting spirit after Mamelodi Sundowns overcame an early deficit and hideous weather conditions to earn a draw with Golden Arrows in the first leg of their MTN8 semifinal at the Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium on Saturday.
Nqobelo Dlamini’s early grass-cutter gave Lehlohonolo Seema’s Arrows the lead in KwaZulu-Natal, but new signing Pavol Safranko got his first goal for the club five minutes from time to give Masandawana the edge heading back to Tshwane for the second leg.
“It was a spirited comeback, a good demonstration of the mentality we possess,” said Mokwena, the Sundowns co-head coach, after the match.
“It was not an easy start to the match, we were immediately on the back foot, particularly when we know the challenge that lies ahead of us in relation to being a team that has a target on its back. In all four matches we have played this season, maybe all four teams in certain moments have reinforced their defensive block and sat in and around their defensive third, looking to play on the counter.
“Arrows were 1-0 up and had a right to do that, their organisation was very good, but we were in control all the time and had a lot of possession. Compliments to the players for demonstrating the commitment and desire to see the team move closer to the final.”
Mokwena also admitted that the cold weather, with wind and rain, made it difficult for Sundowns to be at their best.
“It was around six or seven degrees, and it contributed to our performance but we are professional. Sundowns are strong, we get over these things and fight.”
Safranko, a second half substitute, reacted well to a loose ball in the penalty area to stab home the equaliser, and was clearly delighted with his first goal for the club.
“Pavol needs a bit of time to adapt to our way of playing and patterns, but I think with the goal he scored today, coming on as a sub, he is showing hunger and desire. He has good attributes to help us this season but he still needs time,” added Mokwena.
“It will come. We are clear he is the best striker to complement Kermit (Erasmus), Gift (Mothupa) and Peter (Shalulile).”