Vincent Pule of Orlando Pirates and Hlompho Kekana of Mamelodi Sundowns fight for the ball at Dobsonville Stadium, August 11 2020. Picture: LEFTY SHIVAMBU/BACKPAGEPIX
Vincent Pule of Orlando Pirates and Hlompho Kekana of Mamelodi Sundowns fight for the ball at Dobsonville Stadium, August 11 2020. Picture: LEFTY SHIVAMBU/BACKPAGEPIX

In a sign of the state of footballers’ fitness after the Covid-19 lockdown, even Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates laboured to a 0-0 draw in the opening game of the return to football of the Absa Premiership on Tuesday night.

The two teams managed a decent tempo, but the fireworks associated with this perennially much-awaited fixture were notably subdued.

Pirates,  apparently fresher in their first game back, managed the stronger finish of the two teams in the second half.

Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane displayed the kind of squad management now needed in “football under Covid-19” in the Gauteng biologically safe environment (BSE).

Mosimane had Lebogang Maboe at right-back for their second game, following Saturday’s 3-2 Nedbank Cup semifinal win over Bidvest Wits. Substitute scorer Keletso Makgalwa came in at false No 9 for Sibusiso Vilakazi, who limped off against Wits.

Pirates should have been coming into the game fresh and without team selection complications. But news of key performers Justin Shonga and Thembinkosi Lorch being omitted from the BSE for an unspecified “breach of the team’s protocols” was a setback for coach Joseph Zinnbauer.

Five months of being housebound, and then a month of training, just a week of that as a squad, will make for football between players with legs of concrete.

And it  showed in the Sundowns and Pirates match — which was  guaranteed to be the highlight on a PSL calendar — that had some tempo but was far from explosive.

In the opening half, two teams renowned for an ability to pry openings in any defence produced one clear chance.

Sphelele Mkhulise’s low squared ball from the right found the touch of Themba Zwane at the near post to force an impressively sharp reflex save from Wayne Sandilands.

Pirates, bravely aiming to play high up the field against Downs, showed signs of shaking off the cobwebs as a one-two combination with Luvuyo Memela, on at the break for Augustine Mulenga, saw Fortune Makaringe scythe through the middle and roll an attempt onto the left upright.

Vincent Pule’s speculative lob from the left edge of the area had to be tipped over by Downs’ goalkeeper.

The fresh legs of José Alí Meza and Tebogo Langerman seemed desperately needed for the Downs in the 73rd minute, and brought some balance back into the game.

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