Stellenbosch - Free State Stars became the first side to win through to the quarter-finals of the Nedbank Cup when they defeated Ajax Cape Town 4-2 in a penalty shootout after their second round clash ended 1-1 after extra time at the Coetzenburg Stadium on Saturday.
The hero for Stars during the penalty shootout was goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene who saved spot kicks from Dipsy Selolwane and Nathan Paulse and calmly slotted past his opposite number Hans Vonk when he took responsibility of taking his side’s first penalty kick and was named as Man of the Match for his feat.
Ajax had the upper hand in a fast flowing opening half and took the lead in the 22nd minute through Nhlanhla Shabalala.
However, an inspired substitution from Stars stand-in coach Themba Sithole who replaced out of sorts Manti Moholo with Aleni Lebyane the 41st minute resulted in the equaliser.
With his first touch of the ball Lebyane crossed for unmarked Kingston Nkhatha to head home in the 42nd minute.
The Urban Warriors took the initiative from the kick-off. Right wing Sameehg Doutie out ran the Stars defence, his powerful shot beat Mweene but cannoned off the crossbar in the eighth minute.
Stars struck back two minutes later when Nkhatha lathed onto a cross from Kleinbooi Taaibos but was thwarted with a superb save from Ajax keeper Hans Vonk from close range.
Ajax took the lead when George Maluleka initiated a clever piece of interplay that resulted in Shabalala firing past Mnweene into the far corner of the net in the 22nd minute.
The Urban Warriors piled on the pressure looking for a second goal.
Stanton Lewis had his shot charged down after Doutie stole the ball from Stars defender Reuben Cloete in the 29th minute. Then a minute later Mweene, the Zambian international number one did well to deny Selolwane a goal with a fine save.
Stars to their credit never let their heads go down and came close to getting back on level terms when Nkhatha fired a 25 metre free kick just wide of the upright in the 34th minute.
Then came Sithole's moment of inspiration when he brought on the more attacking option in Lebyane whose cross saw Nkhatha head home the equaliser three minutes from the break.
Stars midfielder Mpho Makola wasted a chance to give his side the lead in the 59th minute when he was set up with a great pass from Nkhatha but with the goal at his mercy he blasted the ball over the crossbar.
Makola laid a goal on the plate for Nkhatha in the 68th minute but the Zimbabwean striker hesitated and lost possession when he should have put Stars 2-1 ahead.
Ajax’s only real chance in a tame second-half came from a shot from Doutie in the 79th minute which was deflected for a corner.
Neither side managed to rise to the occasion and break the deadlock in a dull 30 minutes of extra time and forced the cup-tie to go into the dreaded penalty shootout lottery.