Mamelodi Sundowns star Peter Shalulile (R) scored the first goal of the 2023-2024 South African Premiership season (Phill Magakoe)
The ‘big three’ South African clubs had mixed results as the league season began this weekend with title-holders Mamelodi Sundowns winning, Kaizer Chiefs drawing and Orlando Pirates losing.
Sundowns, seeking to win the Premiership a seventh straight time, triumphed 2-1 at Sekhukhune United in a match where both sides had a player sent off.
Chiefs, hoping to end an eight-season trophy drought, fielded several new signings but failed to impress in a 0-0 stalemate at home to perennial strugglers Chippa United.
Pirates, who also invested heavily in new players and are the pundits’ favourites to pose the strongest challenge to Sundowns, fell 1-0 away to Stellenbosch.
Namibian Peter Shalulile, joint winner of the Premiership Golden Boot last season with 12 goals, and new signing Lucas Ribeiro from Brazil scored for former African champions Sundowns.
Soon after Shalulile converted an early penalty, Sekhukhune were reduced to 10 men when Vusimuzi Mncube was red carded for a studs-up tackle.
A tap-in by Ribeiro, who joined from Belgian outfit SK Beveren, doubled the lead in the second half before Jamie Webber netted direct from a free-kick to create a tense finish.
When Sundowns’ Rivaldo Coetzee retaliated after being fouled, he was dismissed five minutes from time.
“Considerable work went into strengthening the squad during the close season and we saw the benefits tonight,” said Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena.
One of Sundowns’ biggest challenges this season is likely to be fixture congestion. Apart from 30 Premiership matches, they will compete in two domestic knockout competitions.
The Pretoria outfit will also be involved in the inaugural African Football League — launched as the CAF Africa Super League — and the CAF Champions League.
Venezuelan Edson Castillo was among Chiefs’ newcomers as controversial new coach Molefi Ntseki made his Premiership debut.
Ntseki, sacked as South Africa coach after failing to qualify for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, has said that criticism of his appointment stems from him not being a “celebrity”.
Backed by a 35,000 crowd, Chiefs rarely troubled Chippa, an eastern Cape club best known for narrow escapes from relegation and firing an average of four coaches each season.
Pirates dominated possession in the Cape winelands town of Stellenbosch only to be sunk by an Antonio van Wyk goal just before half-time.