The Rockets kept Chiefs on their toes throughout, and ultimately walked away with the silverware.
Not many can claim to have predicted this, but TS Galaxy became the first side from a lower division to annex the Nedbank Cup and, in their fairy tale run, won the hearts of local football followers last night.
In landing the biggest domestic prize of R7 million, the NFD campaigners registered one of the greatest shocks in the history of the famous competition and, in the process, earned qualification to next season’s CAF Confederation Cup.
The Mpumalanga outfit sensed an upset during the build-up, and a conversion from the penalty spot by substitute Zakhele Lepasa made their illustrious opponents reflect on another bleak season – the fourth year Chiefs have ended a campaign without a trophy.
The defeat rubbed salt into Amakhosi’s freshly gaping wound as they are still reeling after finishing a disappointing ninth in the Absa Premiership.
A foul by defender Teenage Hadebe on Lepasa inside the box two minutes from regulation time proved to be the turning point in a game that was expected to be no more than a stroll in the park for the one-time cup kings Chiefs.
The on-loan Orlando Pirates marksman, who came on midway into the second half, picked himself up to net his fourth strike of the tournament. The 22-year-old made his mark in the competition, and he is up for the player of the tournament award alongside his team-mate Terrence Mashego.
However, Galaxy’s success is not just centered on the two as it was a team effort that took the rookies this far.
There could be no comparison between the budgets of Chiefs and Galaxy, but spirit and ambition won the night for the ambitious side founded by former player Tim Sukazi after he purchased the NFD status of Cape Town All Stars last year.
True to their hustles throughout the tournament, The Rockets also lived up to moniker, launching the missiles that eventually blew Amakhosi away – the second premier division side they have stunned after the upstarts eliminated Golden Arrows in the semifinals.
It was apparent from their well-structured play that, in just eight months in charge, coach Dan “Dance” Malesela had drilled some tactical awareness and positional discipline into a side that is mostly made up of amateurs.
Chiefs struggled to get going throughout the 90 minutes, only staying in the game because Galaxy failed to make the most of their few scoring opportunities, especially in the opening half.
The minnows showed disrespect to their illustrious opponents from the first whistle.
They pushed the ball around without fear, which was a sight that irritated Chiefs followers now and then as their side struggled to get off the blocks.
Central to Galaxy’s attacks was Thembinkosi Mbamba, who combined well with Mashego down the left flank, and one of their moves almost surprised Chiefs, but Mbamba tapped his effort over the bar 19 minutes into the encounter.
Galaxy was also threatening when teenager Tshegofatso Nyama gave Siphosakhe Ntiya-Ntiya little room to manoeuvre.
Even when they lost possession, the NFD side fought for every ball, making it difficult for Chiefs to dislodge them of control.
Chiefs created a few chances of their own surging forward, but the Galaxy defence did well to stop Khama Billiat and Bernard Parker from getting to the end of the final pass.
Despite making an impression, Galaxy almost paid dearly for a mix-up in defence on the stroke of half-time, but they recovered quickly to block Parker from pulling the trigger at close range.
A more energised Chiefs emerged in the second half and came close to breaking the deadlock almost immediately after the restart as Kabelo Mahlasela and Billiat pelted shots at Ludwe Mpakumpaku.
The sudden spark followed the change in midfield by Amakhosi coach Ernst Middendorp, who replaced Aro “Dax” Andrianarimanana with George Maluleka in central midfield, where Lebogang Manyama was also handed his first start after missing almost the entire season due to injury.
Despite being under siege, the Galaxy rearguard stood their ground and in some instances put their bodies on the line.
And the moment that changed it all came in the 88th minute, when Hadebe tripped Lepasa, who was racing towards the Chiefs goal following a counter-attack.
Galaxy did it the hard way to reach the final as they played all their four games away from home, without discounting the fact that they also had to play a once-off qualifying round in the NFD to enter competition proper.
Similarly, Chiefs were not handed an easy passage, particularly against opponents from the third division – Tornado FC and Magic FC – who both dragged Middendorp’s men into extra time, the same way Chippa United did to Amakhosi in the semifinals.
But Galaxy ended their dream within regulation time last night after Lepasa won it for the side from the bench as he did against Arrows in the semis.
In clinching the Ke Yona cup, Malesela followed in the footsteps of another local coach, Pitso Mosimane, who won it with Mamelodi Sundowns in 2015.
The historic moment capped a tournament that saw even the sponsors pull out all the stops to make the occasion one of the most memorable for the 56 000 fans who had packed the terraces under the Moses Mabhida Stadium’s arches.
Galaxy brought in the region of 6 000 fans to the final– easily identified by their all-red regalia – who enjoyed themselves before the match on the beach in the KwaZulu-Natal coastal city under warm temperatures earlier in the day.
And they were not let down by their ambitious team.