Ajax Cape Town remained top of the South African Premiership table despite a 4-0 loss at fellow title challengers Kaizer Chiefs in the penultimate round. Orlando Pirates grabbed a late 1-1 draw at Santos to move within two points of Ajax, while Chiefs are still in contention a point further back. Mamelodi Sundowns, however, dropped out of the race after losing 3-1 at Maritzburg United.
At the other end of the table, an equally exciting struggle to dodge the relegation play-offs is also going down to the wire with Moroka Swallows, AmaZulu, and Vasco da Gama in gravest danger of the three.
"Our lack of experience was exposed by Chiefs and now we must win our final game to be sure of finishing first. It may not be an ideal situation for us, but it is wonderful for neutral fans," said Ajax coach Foppe de Haan.
Fellow Dutchman and Pirates coach Ruud Krol said he still hoped for a "miracle", adding: "My boys fought fantastically. You need a little bit of luck sometimes and today it was not on our side."
Ajax made the long journey from Cape Town to the northern city of Polokwane knowing victory would give them the title for the first time and the trophy. But a Chiefs side haunted by poor finishing this season took control from the kick-off and should have been awarded a penalty within two minutes when veteran goalkeeper Hans Vonk appeared to foul Knowledge Musona.
It was only a matter of time before a nervous, porous Ajax defence conceded a goal and it came midway through the first half when Reneilwe Letsholonyane scored from the edge of the box. Zimbabwe-born striker Musona headed the second on 33 minutes to become the leading Premiership scorer this season with 14 goals and midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala got the third before half-time.
Ajax won greater possession after the break only for Musona to strike the post before Tshabalala crowned a performance that earned him the man-of-the-match award with the final goal on 68 minutes.
Pirates strike back
An early Erwin Isaacs goal for Santos seemed set to sink Pirates in Cape Town until substitute Bongani 'Drogba' Ndulula demonstrated his predatory instincts with a scrambled equaliser to secure a 1-1 draw.
Sundowns, winners of the Premiership a record five times, who looked jaded as they played for the third time in seven days, trailed by three goals to Maritzburg United before Brazilian Eduardo Ferreira scored a late consolation goal. A run of Vasco defeats continued as they slumped 3-1 at SuperSport United and the Cape club face a return to second-tier football after just one season among the elite.
They have 27 points, famous Soweto side Swallows 29 and AmaZulu 30. The club finishing second-last enter the play-offs alongside three lower-league clubs, with one Premiership place at stake.