Despite there being only one goal, it was a highly entertaining, incident-filled game in front of a sizable home crowd which were in jubilant spirits after the Telkom Cup was paraded off at half-time.
Sundowns enjoyed most of the ball in the first 10 minutes, but were unable to find penetration against a determined Ajax defence.
After having been on the back foot for the opening stages of the game the Urban Warriors burst to life when Franklyn Cale forced Downs keeper Calvin Marlin into making a diving save from his angled shot from the edge of the area.
Marlin was unable to push the ball clear of danger, but he did brilliantly to block Sameehg Doutie’s follow up.
Ghanaian striker Joseph Masel then came close to scoring what would have been a wonder goal when his shot from 30-yards out whistled past the upright, despite being from a very tight angle.
Ajax continued to pressurise the Brazilians and Marlin again needed to be at his best to stop Masel nodding home Brett Evan’s free kick.
But while Marlin had done well up until that stage, he will have to shoulder some of the blame for Ajax’s goal, which came in the 21st minute.
Marlin failed to deal properly with Cale’s flighted free kick and the ball was somehow bundled over the line at the far post by Ajax defender Eduardo Ferreira.
The Cape side remained on top for most of the remainder of the first half, showing a greater desire to win back possession and often out-thinking their opponents in tight situations.
At times the Urban Warriors players’ intelligence when in possession, and determination to keep the ball, made Sundowns look quite ordinary.
Doutie in particular gave Downs a torrid time with his trickery and skill, while Masel impressed with his pace and willingness to try and make things happen.
Thando Mngomeni was introduced into the game by Sundowns when the players came back onto the field for the second half and the Cape Town-born midfielder’s impact on the game was positive as he added a bit more spark to the Brazilians.
But while the Pretoria side enjoyed the majority of the ball possession, all that had to show for their efforts in the first 15 minutes of the second stanza were two shots, by Dillon Sheppard and Surprise Moriri, that were nowhere near to finding their intended targets.
Masel looked set to double Ajax’s lead in the 81st minute when he disposed Michael Manzini of the ball, but as he was about to pull the trigger the whistle blew for an alleged infringement.
The final 10 minutes were nail-biting as the game swung from end to end; Collins Mbesuma had a late header blocked while Ajax sub Mkhanyiseli Siwahla wasted a few good chances on the counter attack.
But the Cape side were in the end able to hold out for the win; a great morale booster ahead of the short break.
Courtesy of backpagepix