Stuart Baxter cautioned that win or lose in Atteridgeville, Kaizer Chiefs fans needed to keep their eye on the bigger picture as the Amakhosi continue to rebuild.
And bitterly disappointing as their agonizing penalty shootout defeat to Mamelodi Sundowns would have been, there were plenty of positives for Chiefs to take from an entertaining MTN 8 quarterfinal clash.
The home side started the game in the ascendancy and made their early dominance count with a goal in just the game’s ninth minute.
Lyle Lakay took a throw in on the left, which found its way back to the Sundowns wing back, who whipped in a dangerous cross which evaded Daniel Cardoso and Sifiso Hlanti and was headed goalwards and in for the game’s first goal by Peter Shalulile, despite Itumeleng Khune’s best efforts to keep it out.
In the 13th minute it was nearly another Sundowns goal from the same route, with Lakay’s left footed cross this time headed just wide of goal by Shalulile, who was again left unmarked in the box.
Chiefs were battling to get a foothold in the game, with Sifiso Hlanti getting a rare sight on goal as he glanced Khama Billiat’s cross from a short corner well wide.
Sundowns doubled their lead in the 23rd minute, as Rivaldo Coetzee fed Mothobi Mvala, whose neat pass found Themba Zwane in the box, who unleashed an early shot which evaded Khune and cannoned in off the inside of the far post.
It was one way traffic, as Mvala from long range in the 27th minute fired in a stinger which was only just tipped over the bar by Khune.
In the 30th minute Mvala turned provider for Lakay, whose thunderous left-footed hit came back off the frame of the upright, giving Chiefs a major let off.
Against the run of play, though, Chiefs stunned the hosts as Phathutshedzo Nange sprayed a pass wide for Njabulo Blom on the right, whose clever early cross found Bernard Parker, who timed his run into the box perfectly to glance one past Kennedy Mweene and into the net at the far post to make it 2-1.
The game was suddenly turned on its head and a minute before half time Parker nearly leveled matters when he found space in the box and unleashed a shot on goal, which Sundowns captain Mosa Lebusa desperately cleared for a corner.
It was Chiefs who went into the change rooms with the wind up their sails and after the break they continued their resurgence.
Keagan Dolly replaced Kgaogelo Sekgotho in the 59th minute to make his Chiefs debut after his signing following his spell at French Ligue 1 side Montpellier.
The playmaker had barely taken his place on the pitch when the ball fell to him and with his first touch Dolly unleashed a peach of a defence-splitting pass into the path of Billiat, who hit a delicious first time shot which fizzed high and handsome into the Sundowns net inside the far post, past a hapless Mweene for a sensational Chiefs equalizer.
It was a moment of pure magic which would have delighted the Chiefs fans watching at home.
The longer the game progressed, the more Chiefs bossed the game as Nange and Cole Alexander took control of the heart of midfield.
And it was Chiefs who finished the 90 minutes of regulation time strongest, with Billiat making a mazy run down the left, with his cross only just evading Dolly and Samir Nurkovic and rolling to safety – much to Sundowns’ relief.
Chiefs nearly snatched victory a minute from full time, with Parker’s lay off for Nange, whose curling shot was destined for goal at the far post, with Mweene scampering to his left to only just keep it out.
Sundowns had the better of the half chances in extra time, but neither side could find a winner.
Mweene was the Sundowns hero with four saves from Daniel Cardoso, Nurkovic, Erick Mathoho and Nkosingiphile Ngcobo in the shootout.
It was a tame, disappointing end to the game, in which Chiefs came back from 2-0 down against the defending league champions, and showed plenty of courage and character to suggest they will be a team to be reckoned with this season.
Chiefs XI: Khune ©; Hlanti, Mathoho, Cardoso, Blom, Alexander (Frosler 114), Nange (Agay 91), Parker (Radebe 98), Sekgota (Dolly 59); Billiat (Ngcobo 98), Nurković
Subs not used: Petersen (1), Mabiliso (26), Njabulo Ngcobo (27), Mashiane
Coach: Stuart Baxter
Sundowns XI: Mweene (1); Mudau (25), De Reuck (28), Lebusa © (5), Mvala (34), Domingo (23), Coetzee (40), Modiba (17), Zwane (18), Shalulile (38)