Early goals lift Mamelodi Sundowns to top with one round left

Mamelodi Sundowns scored twice within six minutes of the kick-off to defeat Golden Arrows 2-0 Tuesday and become the new South African Premiership leaders with one round remaining.

An away win over relegation-threatened Free State Stars this Saturday will give the defending champions a record-extending ninth title in one of the top five African leagues.

Pretoria-based Sundowns have 56 points and Orlando Pirates 54 in a two-team race to the finish line with the Soweto Buccaneers completing their schedule at home to Polokwane City.

Although Polokwane are fifth and Free State 14th in the standings, Sundowns have the tougher task as they play away against a side fighting for top-flight survival.

Assuming Pirates win, Sundowns must also collect maximum points to remain first as they have an inferior goal difference to their rivals.

Overcoming Arrows at a vibrant Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria eased the disappointment of Sundowns after being eliminated from the CAF Champions League semi-finals last Saturday.

The South African outfit had been confident of reaching the final for a second time in four seasons after losing 2-1 to Wydad Casablanca in Morocco, but could only draw 0-0 at home.

While the Wydad defence proved impenetrable, Sundowns had no difficulty piercing Arrows' rearguard with captain Hlompho Kekana and Themba Zwane scoring the early goals.

- Cheeky backheel -

Zwane created the first with just over two minutes gone through a cheeky backheel that set up Kekana to fire across Namibian goalkeeper Maximilian Mbaeva into the far corner.

Uruguayan Gaston Sirino, a strong candidate for the Premiership Player of the Season award, crossed for Zwane to score from close range in the sixth minute.

Durban side Arrows slowly became composed, but never threatened a comeback against opponents who tired in the closing stages due to a heavy domestic and African schedule.

"Our fuel gauge is showing empty -- we are running on the reserves in the tank," said Sundowns coach and former South Africa striker Pitso Mosimane.

"The legs of my players have gone and they are playing with their hearts now. Arrows were quicker and fresher, but we managed the match well.

"Those last 20 minutes were hell, though. We resembled a car running out of fuel and hoping there was a garage around the next corner."

The Premiership ends Saturday with Sundowns and Pirates in a title fight and Baroka, Chippa United, Free State, Black Leopards and Maritzburg United battling to avoid relegation.

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