South Africa

Ten players to look out for in the MTN8 final

Expect fireworks at Moses Mabhida Stadium as old rivals Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns square up for the right to be crowned the 2023 MTN8 champions.

The Tshwane side completed a league double over the Buccaneers last season. However, it was Pirates who dumped them out of the lucrative top 8 competition in the last campaign, with a 3-0 hiding in the second leg of their semifinal.

Their recent DStv Premiership encounter ended in a narrow 1-0 win in favour of The Brazilians. Phakaaathi Reporter Katlego Modiba looks at five key players from both sides who are likely to leave their mark in Durban.

Orlando Pirates

Tapelo Xoki

Xoki has shown great leadership qualities since his move from AmaZulu to the Soweto giants last season. He gives Pirates stability at the back and has filled the gap left by former captain Happy Jele.

The 28-year-old has played in all three matches of Pirates’ run to the final and The Sea Robbers can count on their current skipper in what is expected to be an emotionally charged game where cool heads will be needed.

Small margins normally decide big games and the centre-back is also reliable from the penalty spot should the moment require someone to step up. He was on the scoresheet against Sekhukhune United when Pirates lifted the Nedbank Cup earlier this year

Paseka Mako

Mako’s consistency has been rewarded by Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos who has called him up for upcoming international friendlies against Eswatini and Ivory Coast.

The speedy wing-back can cause damage on the left side if left unattended. His ability to also help out thwart dangerous counter-attack situations is what also makes him so valuable to Jose Riveiro.

Mako spent his formative years at the Mamelodi Sundowns Development Academy and Rulani Mokwena will know first hand the danger Mako possess in attack.

Monnapule Saleng

Monnapule Saleng. Picture: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

The fact that Jose Riveiro rested Saleng for the last game against Jwaneng Galaxy shows how important the reigning PSL Player’s Player of the Season is.

The move backfired as Pirates crashed out of the CAF Champions League. The nimble-footed winger has already chipped in with one goal and an assist en route to the final. Games of this magnitude are made for players with big match temperament and Saleng ticks that box.

Last season, he was a thorn in Sundowns’ flesh, his brace gave Pirates the 3-0 win the semifinal. He proved to be the difference once again in the final against AmaZulu, scoring the only goal of the game at Moses Mabhida Stadium.

Patrick Maswanganyi

Maswanganyi has hit the ground running following the big move from SuperSport United at the start of the season. He has played every minute of Pirate’s run to the final.

The 25-year-old has the technical ability to play in tight spaces and uses his creativity to great effect, having already provided three assists in the competition.

Zakhele Lepasa

Zakhele Lepasa. Picture: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

The talented striker will be looking to make amends for his lackluster performance against Jwaneng Galaxy, who knocked Pirates out of the CAF Champions League.

The 26-year-old is the leading scorer in the competition with four goals that includes a hat-trick against Sekhukhune United in the quarterfinals. Lepasa etched his name into the history books of South African football four years ago.

It was at Moses Mabhida Stadium where he scored a winning penalty in the 2019 Nedbank Cup final against Kaizer Chiefs while on loan at TS Galaxy.

Mamelodi Sundowns

Ronwen Williams

Ronwen Williams. Picture: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

For all the hype that has been made about Ronwen Williams and his ability to play out from the back, the 31-year-old is an even better shot-stopper.

His heroics last season in Sundowns’ title-winning run saw him keep 18 clean sheets in the league to set new record. Williams has already kept five clean sheets in seven DStv Premiership matches and once in three MTN8 games.

Teboho Mokoena

The reigning PSL Footballer of the Season is at the heart of The Brazilians’ engine room. The Bafana Bafana international hardly sets a foot wrong in the middle of the park.

He’s a proven match-winner on any given day and Pirates will need to keep an eye on Mokoena and not allow him to get near the box to unleash one of his trademark powerful shots outside the danger area.

Lucas Ribeiro

The Brazilian winger, who has been described as a ‘ceiling-raiser’ by his coach Rulani Mokwena is proving to be the man for the big occasion having netted against Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates in the league.

If he passes a late fitness test and overcomes a niggling knee injury, very few would bet against him scoring his eighth goal of the campaign across all competitions.

Although he’s still waiting for his first goal of the MTN8, Ribeiro has two assists in the competition.

Themba Zwane

Themba Zwane. Picture: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Themba Zwane has already attained legendary status at Sundowns even though he’s still active. He recently surpassed club legend Surprise Moriri’s tally of 78 goals for Sundowns, he’s sitting on 81 goals and now chasing Daniel Mudau’s record of 110.

Not only is Zwane press-resistant but he’s the heartbeat of Masandawana’s creativity in the final third. If Pirates are to limit Sundowns’ threat in front of goal then the dribbling wizard needs to be given special attention because he can single-handedly turn a game on its head.

On the way to the final, he scored the only goal of the match in the 1-0 win against Moroka Swallows in the quarterfinal.

Peter Shalulile

Shalulile’s brace in the second leg of the semifinal against Kaizer Chiefs earned his team a spot in the final. He was desperately missed in the first leg while recovering on from an injury.

A fit Shalulile is enough to send fear to any defence in the league. The Namibian hitman has scored six goal against Pirates over his time at Highlands Park and Sundowns.