Celtic defeat Leopards

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Celtic recovered from going a goal down and losing Lebohang Mothibantwa to a red card midway through the second half of regulation time to seal their place in the quarterfinals of Africa’s richest domestic cup competition.

A stop-start match which was constantly disrupted by fouls and injuries meant that Phunya Sele Sele were unable to produce the brand of attacking football that sees them top the Premier Soccer League, while Lidoda Duvha, who were cast as major underdogs prior to the game, were quite happy with the intermittent rhythm of play.

Leopards took a shock lead in the 11th minute, with Myron Shongwe opening the scoring. A fine diagonal pass by David Makgale found Thabiso Hlalele with space on the edge of Celtic’s 18-yard area. The midfielder screwed his shot across the face of goal but Shongwe latched onto the ball, steering it past Shuaib Walters.

Celtic almost pulled level a few minutes later, when Siphesihle Ngobese put a shot just wide of ‘keeper Mashudu Mamphitha’s left hand upright after a neat back-heel by Patrick Malokase.

Malokase had an effort on target for Celtic in the 37th minute, firing a low free kick past the Leopards wall, but Mamphitha had no trouble in holding onto the grass-cutter.

Celtic’s influential left winger Ngobese was soon forced from the field, succumbing to injury after some rough treatment by the Leopards defenders, particularly Hartman Toromba, who was lucky to remain on the field. Petrus Mahlatsi, who had just recovered from injury, came on in place of Ngobese.

Celtic were denied an equaliser in added time at the end of the first half, when Malokase was adjudged to have fouled Makgale in the process of steering his header inside the far post.

However, Mark Amofah brought Phunya Sele Sele level with his first goal for the club, when he beat Mamphitha to Lebogang Mothibantwa’s clever flick in the fifth minute of added time, making it 1-1 at the break.

Amofah, however, also yielded to an injury he picked up during the game, coming off just past the hour mark to make way for Carlo Scott.

The rough and tumble match had yet another casualty less than 10 minutes later, as Shongwe was stretchered off for Leopards after losing consciousness, with Walter Ramulondi coming on in his place.

Celtic were then reduced to 10 men in the 70th minute, with Mothibantwa foolishly hitting out at Mayasisilua Lubanzadio as the Leopards player tried to apologise to the midfielder after a rough challenge. Referee Charl Theron booked Lubanzadio and brandished a red card in the direction of Mothibantwa.

Coach Khabo Zondo immediately reshuffled, withdrawing poor Scott, who had seen only 11 minutes of action, and introducing Ntokozo Sikhakhane to solidify his midfield. And, somewhat surprisingly, Celtic continued to have the better of the match.

The hosts twice tested Mamphitha within five minutes of going a man down, as the Leopards’ keeper was forced to make consecutive saves from a Timothy Batabaire header and another Malokase free-kick.

Mamphitha denied Celtic yet again in the 86th minute, saving Moses Spandeel’s rasping shot from the edge of the box to ensure that the match went to extra time.

The two teams appeared to be exhausted during extra time and penalties seemed an inevitable conclusion, although Celtic, to their credit, continued to push forward in search of a goal despite their numerical disadvantage.

Nonetheless, neither team could find a breakthrough and a shootout was called for. Spandeel and Makgale missed their kicks for Celtic and Leopards respectively but the defining moment came when Christian Moudouthe-Bille hit the post in sudden death, handing Celtic a place in the quarterfinals.

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