Free State Stars reached their first final since 1999 as they sensationally stunned Kaizer Chiefs with a 2-0 win in the Nedbank Cup semi-finals on Saturday night.
A clinical first-half brace from Harris Tchilimbou did the damage for Luc Eymael’s side, who had Thela Ngobeni to thank for preserving their lead at the Moses Mabhida Stadium with a string of saves.
Amakhosi’s cause wasn’t helped by wastefulness as they passed up a whole host of chances to score on the night.
The visitors got off to a dream start as Tchilimbou found himself unmarked to head home a fine cross from Nyiko Mobbie on the right in the opening minute.
Chiefs responded well after the early setback and created numerous chances, but they lacked the killer touch in front of goal.
Ryan Moon couldn’t keep his header down from Philani Zulu’s cross on the left on five minutes, before the forward headed Hendrick Ekstein’s delivery from the right wide of the near post three minutes later.
Moon looked to turn provider on 10 minutes when he threaded a pass through to Joseph Malongoane, but Ngobeni pulled off a sharp save at close range to deny the midfielder.
Their eagerness to push for an equaliser proved costly on 34 minutes as Tchilimbou struck again. Daniel Cardoso failed to deal with a cross into the box and the striker chested the ball down before slotting past Itumeleng Khune.
The Glamour Boys piled on the pressure in the closing stages of the first half, with Moon finally drawing a save out of Ngobeni with his 40th-minute header, before Willard Katsande directed Siphiwe Tshabalala’s free-kick narrowly wide a minute later and Malongoane missed the target with a snapshot in the 44th minute.
Sinethemba Jantjie could have put the game to bed two minutes into the second half as Stars broke, but he fired wide from 12 yards out on the right after being played clean through on goal.
Moon wasted a glorious opportunity to halve the deficit two minutes later when he directed a volley onto the roof of the net after Malongoane’s deflected shot dropped kindly for him seven yards out.
Goodman Dlamini hit a tame first-time effort straight at Khune from the edge of the box on 51 minutes after being released down the left flank, while at the opposite end substitute Leonardo Castro somehow failed to hit the target with a header right in front of goal from eight yards out in the 53rd minute.
Castro went for the spectacular on 62 minutes when a free-kick from the right deflected up into the air, but the striker cleared the bar with an overhead-kick from six yards out, before Dumisani Zuma curled a shot wide of the right post from the edge of the box on the left a minute later.
Ekstein looked destined to score on 66 minutes after Moon picked him out in space on the edge of the six-yard box, but Ngobeni stood firm once more to smother the ball.
Siphelele Mthembu forced Khune to tip his driven effort from the right around the left post on 74 minutes as Ea Lla Koto countered, before the action quickly switched to the other end as Castro hit a shot on the turn that was easily gathered by Ngobeni, who raced swiftly off his line to save at the feet of Ekstein when he broke through the defence on 79 minutes.
Castro missed the target twice in the final two minutes as Stars defended for their lives, while an acrobatic effort from Bernard Parker went straight to Ngobeni deep into stoppage time.