Lebohang Maboe shrugged off poor form this season to score the hat-trick that gave Mamelodi Sundowns a 3-0 win over Black Leopards Saturday and a third straight South African league title.
Kaizer Chiefs, leaders on goal difference entering the final round, could only draw 1-1 with Baroka, leaving the most famed club in the country without a trophy in five seasons.
Sundowns completed the 30-round championship with 59 points, two more than Chiefs, and Orlando Pirates finished third on 52 thanks 1-0 victory against Stellenbosch.
Former winners Sundowns will represent South Africa in the 2020/2021 CAF Champions League with Chiefs while Pirates and Bloemfontein Celtic enter the second-tier Confederation Cup.
While Sundowns celebrated by dancing and singing before collecting medals and the trophy, it was a heart-breaking climax for Chiefs, whose support is counted in millions.
Desperate to end a trophy drought since winning the 2015 league title, they led by 13 points at one stage of the season only to see the huge advantage gradually whittled away.
Maboe nodded Sundowns in front during first-half stoppage time on a hard, bumpy Dobsonville Stadium pitch in Soweto and struck again eight minutes after half-time.
He completed his hat-trick in stoppage time with a header that fumbling Leopards goalkeeper King Ndlovu should have saved.
“It is not how you start a season but how you finish it,” stressed Maboe, referring to Sundowns falling behind in domestic fixtures because of African commitments.
“We were not aware how Chiefs were doing and concentrated on scoring as many goals as possible.
– ‘Forget about Chiefs’ –
“The message from our coaches was crystal clear — forget about Chiefs, put Leopards under pressure and score frequently.
“A key factor in our second successful defence of the title was mental toughness created through many seasons of competing in Africa.”
Chiefs were on course to finish first when Zimbabwean Khama Billiat gave them a half-time lead through his second league goal in as many matches after 12 months without scoring.
But Mozambican Manuel Kambala levelled for Baroka just before the hour mark in Johannesburg, beating goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune at his near post with a header off a free-kick.
Chiefs sent on three substitutes with 20 minutes remaining, including Zambian Lazarous Kambole and Kenyan Anthony Akumu, but none of them could not deliver a match-winner.
The Soweto outfit often resorted to high crosses and Zimbabwe-born Baroka goalkeeper Elvis Chipezeze excelled as he repeatedly caught them under pressure.
“Our fate was in our hands and we failed so congratulations to Sundowns,” said Ernst Middendorp, who had hoped to become the first German to coach South African league winners.
“We needed a second goal and when Baroka equalised the situation became very difficult. Breaking down massed defences has been a problem for us this season.”
Baroka not only thwarted the title ambitions of Chiefs, but secured safety by drawing as they finished ahead of second-last Leopards on goal difference.
Leopards go into play-offs with two second division sides for one place in the elite league next season while Polokwane City, who fell 3-1 to Wits, were automatically relegated.