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Moriri returns for key game

By Marc Strydom

THE return to match action of proven goal-scorer Surprise Moriri, and return to fitness of playmaker Godfrey Sapula have boosted Mamelodi Sundowns ahead of their Telkom Knockout final against Kaizer Chiefs at Loftus on Saturday. Moriri made a surprise return after a knee operation in Sundowns’ 0-0 league draw against Chiefs in Durban two weeks ago as a substitute, and was a starter in the Brazilians’ 2-2 draw against Jomo Cosmos on Monday, being replaced by Shakes Ngwenya just after the break.

Sapula was ready to make his return against Cosmos from the hamstring injury that has made for a stop-start season for the 2006/07 player of the year and player’s player of the year, but was held back by coach Gordon Igesund.

In fact Igesund has a full squad to chose from for the first time in months, with long-term injury Dillon Sheppard Downs’ only casualty for the final.

Including Sheppard, Sundowns had six front-line players missing against Cosmos. Consistent left and right full-backs Shere Lekgothoane and Bafana Bafana’s new No 1 Vuyo Mere were suspended. Igesund also opted to rest Brent Carelse and Lerato Chabangu.

“Carelse was on two yellow cards and we did not want to risk him picking up a suspension and Chabangu has been playing in almost every game,” Igesund told The Witness yesterday.

“Sapula was ready to make his return from injury, but I decided to hold him back too with the cup final in mind. And I also did not want to show my hand too much.”

The availability of all his players leaves Igesund with some pleasant selection quandaries. Mere and Lekgothoane have been regulars and should take their places on either side of defence.

In the middle Igesund is spoilt for choice for who to partner captain Benson Mhlongo, with Oscar Ntwagae performing well in recent matches, Oldjohn Mabizela showing signs of a resurgence and the experience of Michael Manzini also available. Goalkeeper Brian Baloyi has been in some of his best form in years and is likely to replace Calvin Marlin from the Cosmos game.

Sapula’s return means the permutations in central midfield are equally open to speculation. Igesund has been increasingly using Chilean Jorge Acuna next to Esrom Nyandoro in front of the defence, while Moriri’s return gives the coach another option to Sapula at playmaker, or on the left in place of Sheppard.

Carelse, too, can play in either position, while Chabangu provides a third option for left midfield, or up-front, either alone or as a partner to Patrick Apataki.

“I would rather have it this way, where I have some difficult decisions to make because I am spoilt for choice, than the other way round where I don’t have the options,” Igesund said.

“Acuna has been playing extremely well in central midfield, and so has Nyandoro, while Surprise Moriri gives me more options.”

Veteran Peter Ndlovu has been scoring some crucial goals for Sundowns coming off the bench, including the extra-time winner against Free State Stars in the Telkom semis, and the 86th-minute equaliser against Cosmos.

“He is still a key player for us and he has scored some important goals this season, and been doing very well,” Igesund said.

“So is Apataki, and then we’ve also got Chabangu coming back, and I think I might want to use his pace up-front.”

The PSL announced yesterday that the Saturday’s final has been sold out.