|PENALTY 1: Parker goes down|
It happened in front of plenty of witnesses. The attempt was thwarted with some gusto. Pitso's witness statement was short, but sufficient when asked about the two shocking penalties awarded to Kaizer Chiefs by referee Khulisani Qongqo.
The Mamelodi Sundowns coach said simply: “I won’t comment on the referee. Everyone saw it.”
And that was enough. Two soft penalty decisions. Two chances for South Africa’s biggest football team to get back in the game. And Dennis Onyango saved them both to scoop the Man of the Match award with the broadest of smiles.
Qongqo is no beginner. He’s a FIFA sanctioned referee and has done big games in his career, though it’s hard to find out much about South Africa officials generally. I do know he was nominated for PSL referee of the year in 2014 and he’s had overseas assignments.
But what we saw on Reconciliation Day, with 52,000 at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, felt like a calculated attempt to alter the course of the game. For a start, when Chiefs were struggling in the first half, he was slow to act on a series of nasty challenges. He failed to control the game which was, frankly, awful, after the opening goal.
After half-time things brightened up. But Sundowns were always in control. Then Qongqo tried to even things up on the hour mark.
|PENALTY 2: ball hits Nthethe's upper arm|
Ignoring the furore, Siphiwe Tshabalala stepped up and struck it well, but Ugandan Onyango went the right way and parried.
Just 13 minutes later, Reneilwe Letsholonyane broke in to the box. His effort made contact with the unfortunate Nthethe’s arm, Qongqo hesitated… then pointed to the spot once more. Nthethe was floored at the time, the ball made contact with the top of his arm. Never a penalty.
This time substitute Camaldine Abraw, who was eager to take the first spot kick, stepped up… only for Onyango to save again.
By this time Sundowns captain Nthethe had already put his side 2-0 up with a well-taken header after Colombian Leonardo Castro’s early opener.
To their credit Chiefs, a shadow of the side which won the PSL title with a record 69 points last season, soldiered on despite these two huge blows to morale.
Even when Hlompho Kekaha made it 3-0 to Mosimane’s men to complete his perfect set of PSL silverware, Chiefs found their way to goal in injury time, for a late consolation from Abraw.
But in truth, they were never in it. Pule Ekstein, finally given the chance to show us what he’s got on the biggest stage, failed dismally. He went off with Edward Manqele and Lucky Baloyi in the 54rd minute, in a flurry of changes which left the officials in confusion.
The ever-articulate Steve Komphela tried to explain afterwards: “I can’t sit on the bench and do nothing. You have to react to what is happening. But when their second goal went in, I decided to change all three.”
The confusion ended with a yellow card… and then those two penalty saves.
Onyango explained afterwards: “We’ve been doing a lot of work on penalties. My team-mates were reminding me which way to go for both of them. Because we are a team.”
That’s all very well. After Jody February saved FOUR spot kicks to see our U23s to the Olympics last weekend, this was more of the glorious same.
But my question is: What if BOTH of those dodgy spot kicks had been successfully converted? Chiefs, outplayed and lacklustre throughout the first half, would have been back on level terms.
The R4m cheque from Telkom - shared between the players and technical staff by Sundowns’ understandably generous billionaire owner Patrice Motsepe - would have been torn away from Pitso’s men, who had never beaten Chiefs in a final.
And Komphela, who claimed afterwards his side might have won 5-3 if they had scored those penalties and “three one-on-ones”, would have won his first EVER trophy in 30 years as a player and coach.
My question is this: would the urbane Komphela have treasured his moment, given the referee’s two enthusiastically given spot kicks?
Would justice have been done? I’ve watched both decisions again and again. The first was questionable; no referee would give a second penalty 13 minutes later the way Qongqa did. Not in my experience.
On SuperSport TV, analyst Zane Moosa tried to tell us “The referee was Kaizer Chiefs Man of the Match” but he was cut short. Neither penalty was given a good look in the aftermath. But we only need the words of Pitso: “Everybody saw it.” You did, I did. If you remove the estimated 15 million pairs of gold-tinted glasses, we all did.
But hey. It’s Reconciliation Day. Dennis the Menace saved us from having to consider the dreaded conclusion: Our football is manipulated. Right in front of our eyes. Just like those friendlies before the 2010 World Cup.
But remember Pitso running for cover after Sundowns lost to Golden Arrows in September? And remember how Bobby Motaung got rid of coach Stuart Baxter, player of the season Tefu Mashamaite and top-scorer Mandla Masango just a few weeks after that epic title win?
For both those reasons: the AmaKhosi must be patient. Chiefs have lost more cup finals this season (two) than they have PSL games (one)… there is still hope.
But if referees like Khulisani Qongqo continue to given the big games, our football will have no hope at all.