DO-OR-DIE BAT­TLES TO CON­QUER AFRICA

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - MAZOLA MOLEFE

MAMELODI Sun­downs, the CAF Cham­pi­ons League ti­tle hold­ers, must win away against Saint Ge­orge of Ethiopia tomorrow to keep their pur­suit of a rare feat of de­fend­ing their tro­phy – un­think­able in the con­ti­nent’s premier club com­pe­ti­tion – within their grasp.

And coach Pitso Mosi­mane will be the first to ad­mit that the Brazil­ians have them­selves to blame for be­ing in a pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion in that they must beat Saint Ge­orge, the sur­prise pack­age in Group C of the tour­na­ment.

The lit­tle known out­fit used the goal­less draw on the road at Sun­downs in mid-May to prove their met­tle as no pushovers dur­ing the first round of matches, ar­riv­ing at the Lu­cas Moripe Sta­dium with very few ex­pect­ing them to cause an up­set and re­turn­ing to Ad­dis Ababa with a hard-fought point.

They have run ev­ery­one in the group – lead­ers Esper­ance and bot­tom of the log AS Vita – close since then.

Sun­downs had man­aged to bounce back in a man­ner that sug­gested they, along with Tu­nisia’s Esper­ance, would be out­right favourites to progress to the quar­ter-fi­nals when they thumped Vita 3-1 at the lion’s den that is Kinshasa.

This was per­haps the most no­table re­sult in the group, es­pe­cially given the history be­tween the two sides af­ter the South Africans were al­lowed back into last year’s com­pe­ti­tion fol­low­ing Vita’s dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion, and then went all the way to win the Cham­pi­ons League tro­phy.

But Sun­downs have of­ten looked a shadow of that ma­raud­ing side in this edi­tion of the tour­na­ment, as the vic­tory over Vita is their only win in the group to date.

They were beaten 2-1 by Esper­ance in their own back­yard ear­lier this month, much to Mosi­mane’s dis­may, who lamented the un­avail­abil­ity of key play­ers like Ri­cardo Nasci­mento, Wayne Arendse, An­thony Laf­for, Khama Bil­liat, cap­tain Hlom­pho Kekana and Yan­nick Zakri.

The re­turn of some of these match-win­ners two weeks later in­deed strength­ened the Downs line-up when they went to Esper­ance in the away match, but fail­ure to win there – held to a goal­less draw – has put pres­sure on the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons to try and dis­man­tle plucky Saint Ge­orge be­fore they wel­come Vita to the Lu­cas Moripe Sta­dium next week­end in the fi­nal round of matches.

Sun­downs aren’t the only SA side in­volved in a win or bust sce­nario tomorrow, their crosstown ri­vals Su­perS­port United also in a dicey CAF Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup fix­ture they sim­ply can­not af­ford to lose when they face Horoya away in Con­akry, Guinea.

Mat­sat­santsa, who re­tained the Ned­bank Cup ti­tle a week ago in Dur­ban af­ter beat­ing Orlando Pi­rates 4-1 in the fi­nal, squan­dered a chance to oc­cupy the sum­mit when they could only man­age a goal­less draw against hold­ers TP Mazembe in At­teridgeville, leav­ing Horoya to move to the top of Group D af­ter they nar­rowly beat whip­ping boys CF Mounana 1-0 in Con­akry.

Like Sun­downs, Su­perS­port en­dured a rather poor start as they dropped their guard and laboured to a 2-2 stale­mate with Horoya in an ear­lier fix­ture be­tween the two sides in May, a group opener played at the Lu­cas Moripe Sta­dium.

Mazembe are ex­pected to beat CF Mounana away in Li­bre­ville tomorrow, putting pres­sure on Su­perS­port to go all out for a win in their match.

It will be a last as­sign­ment for as­sis­tant coach Kai­tano Tembo, who had taken over their Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup cam­paign with Stu­art Bax­ter jug­gling the Bafana Bafana job at the same time.

For­mer Cape Town City men­tor Eric Tin­kler has been ap­pointed Su­perS­port coach as of tomorrow, but the club de­cided to al­low Kai­tano to see off their CAF group stages cam­paign.

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