Mamelodi Sundowns player Tebhoho Mokoena (left) and Orlando Pirates' Nkosinathi Sibisi during the MTN8 semi final, 1st leg match at Orlando Stadium on October 01.

Saturday’s clash between Orlando Pirates and five-time successive Premier Soccer League winners Mamelodi Sundowns could well be a signal that Sundowns finally have a rival that could push them all the way this season. 

Pirates held Sundowns to a credible 0-0 draw in the first leg of this MTN8 tie on Saturday and with a bit of luck the Buccaneers could have gone to the second leg on October 22 in Polokwane with a healthy lead.

The two teams dished out a wonderful game of football which deserved to be watched by the more than 35,000 fans that filled this iconic Soweto venue. Even an unusual R80 ticket price for the cheapest ticket didn’t turn the fans away from coming to watch this game live. They must have gone home satisfied they didn’t waste their hard-earned cash, though a goal or two would have pleased them more.

Sundowns won a treble last season but if there’s a team to deny them that this time around it could be this Buccaneers side which was inspired by debutant and man-of-the-match Ndabayithethwa Ndlondlo in this encounter.

Orlando Pirates coach Jose Riveiro on the arrival of attacker Kermit Erasmus.

Orlando Pirates coach Jose Riveiro says the arrival of attacker Kermit Erasmus will help the team because he is experienced.

Pirates could have won this match had striker Zakhele Lepasa taken his chance five minutes into the second half when he found himself one on one with Sundowns goalkeeper Ronwen Williams.

Lepasa, who was replaced by Bucs’ returnee Kermit Erasmus just after the hour-mark, blasted his shot straight into the hands of Williams.

Pirates lost five competitive matches against Sundowns coming into this match, but that didn’t show in the confident way they played under their new coach Jose Riveiro, who had warned before the game that previous stats mean nothing to him.

Riveiro included two surprise changes in his starting line-up. Ndlondlo, signed from Marumo Gallants before the close of the PSL window last week, was deployed on the left side of the midfield, while Seleng Monnapule made a rare appearance as a striking partner to Lepasa.  

As expected Sundowns saw a little bit more of the ball but Pirates, playing in front of their home crowd, wanted it too and used their possession well at times.

With Ndlondlo, Goodman Mosele, Miguel Timm in Riveiro’s midfield you would have expected Pirates to take the game to Sundowns and that’s exactly what they did, especially in the first 45 minutes.

Monnapule came close to giving Pirates a lead in the 12th minute, his well-taken free kick on the right side of the field grazing William’s far post after one of those set pieces that the home side won in their transition game.

Ndlondlo, the shortest of the players on the field, looked like the tonic Pirates needed in their midfield, comfortable on the ball and able to combine well with his teammates all over the field in both halves.

Sundowns, however, were not sitting and watching Pirates dictating terms in this game and could have taken the lead in the 20th minute after Themba Zwane broke free following an exchange of passes with Teboho Mokoena. The Bafana Bafana attacker lacked composure and blasted his shot way over the bar.

But all in all Pirates gave Sundowns a game they’ve not had this season. Pirates tried to match Sundowns kilogram for kilogram, though their combinations were disturbed by their visitors’ well-executed high-press game plan.  

Sundowns were so careful not to lose that at times their players resorted to time-wasting tactics when Ndlondlo and company wanted to finish them off.

Erasmus, who joined Pirates on a free transfer from Sundowns, came close to beating Williams with a lob minutes after replacing Lepasa and with a bit of fitness he could have had another shot late in the match when he was put through by Timm.

It may be too early to make a final determination, but this Bucs side, with no Caf commitments this season and wise buying of new players, could indeed be the rivals that Sundowns have been missing for more than half a decade.