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DURBAN – A goal in each half was enough to separate the two sides yesterday as Royal AM walked over a technically exposed Mbabane Highlanders.

No wonder Highlanders supporters were clearly angry at the Selaotse ‘Sly’ Mosala-led technical bench, after they let South African striker Josef Lekata played the whole game - he did nothing in the match other than being a tourist. He was subbed off in the first leg of the TotalEnergies CAF Confederation Cup preliminary round match, but this time, the fans tried to call out to the coach, but it was in vain. Despite a good first half in which Royal AM were lucky to finish ahead, Highlanders lost it in the second half especially in the middle of the field. Former Mbombela United’s Banele ‘Stiga’ Ndzabandzaba was fatigued, but also was kept on until the last 10 minutes. This did not sit well with the fans, especially because there was experienced Sabelo ‘Sawa’ Gamedze, Lindani ‘Rio’ Matsenjwa on the bench, but only used the first two in the last seven minutes.

His substitutions were also questioned by the travelling over 100 supporters as he took out troublesome wingers, Tony ‘Ben 10’ Machacha and Kenneth ‘Mashaba’ Moloto, when all they needed was supply as they had it in first half. It was experienced forward Elias Pelembe who broke the deadlock much against the run of play right at the stroke of half-time. Goalkeeper Khanyakwezwe Shabalala, one of the best performers in the match, was unfortunate to spill a snap shot from the edge of the box by the striker which drooped over his goal line.

Shabalala could have done a lot better for a keeper of his calibre. Upon the restart, the South African DStv Premiership side, Royal AM started brightly once again, but this time they got no response from their visitors who had all the chances to bury the match at home last Sunday at Lobamba. Had it not been for Shabalala’s heroics, it would have been a cricket score against a fatigued Highlanders that was now left with just three stars against the richly paid ‘Thwihli Thwahla’ stars.

Highlanders  needed an equaliser to see them through with the away goal rule. Royal AM finally struck two minutes from time via the boot of Sikhethele Mabuza who was unmarked inside the box. He easily slotted it into the far corner past the keeper. Only three minutes stoppage time was added which just summed up the campaign for Inkunz’emnyama, who were back in continental football after nine years since their last attempt.
It was otherwise a good showing from Highlanders in the opening half who ran short of finding the back of the net, thanks to some brilliant goalkeeping too by Hugo Nyame. He denied second best player on the day, Philani Mkhontfo twice  while also saving from Machacha. If anything, central defender Peter Dlamini was the man of the match even Royal AM owner Shauwn ‘MaMkhize’ Mkhize likes him. He stopped so many dangerous balls with spot-on tackles and did not just hit the ball, but tried to play his teammates as quickly as possible. Also impressive was former Vovovo defender Aristote Tamuzi. Royal AM will now play Zambia’s Zesco United in the second preliminary round next month after advancing on 2-0 aggregate following last week’s away goalless draw in Eswatini.

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Should Eswatini join BRICS as per the Russian Federation's invitation?