SUN­DOWNS’ ROAD TO AFRICAN GLORY

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Sport Starts Here -

THE Brazil­ians of South Africa — Mamelodi Sun­downs — were fi­nally crowned African cham­pi­ons on their sec­ond at­tempt with a 3-1 ag­gre­gate win against Egyp­tian side Za­malek on Sun­day.

Sun­downs did the job at home in the first leg with a com­pre­hen­sive 3-0 win last week. The White Knights of Egypt were al­ways go­ing to be tricky cus­tomers to han­dle in Cairo. But Sun­downs stuck to their game plan — at­tacked at ev­ery given op­por­tu­nity and solid de­fend­ing when un­der at­tack. The strat­egy bore fruit as Za­malek only man­aged to put one in the net, not enough to wres­tle the African crown from Sun­downs.

That vic­tory ended a long wait for Sun­downs and SA foot­ball. The Brazil­ians last came close to African glory in 2001 but fell short (4-1 on ag­gre­gate) against an­other Egyp­tian side Al Ahly, the eight times African cham­pi­ons. Sweet vic­tory it was for Sun­downs and coach Pitso Mosi­mane, the first SA coach to lift the con­ti­nen­tal crown.

The Sun­downs fairy­tale run started at Bar­bour­fields in Bu­l­awayo in the pre­lim­i­nary stages of the com­pe­ti­tion on Fe­bru­ary 13. Not ex­actly the start they would have ex­pected as the Pre­to­ria team were given a run for their money go­ing down 1-0 to Chicken Inn FC. But the Brazil­ians were not about to choke in the ini­tial stages of this com­pe­ti­tion as they bounced back with a 2-0 win in the sec­ond leg to ad­vance to the next round.

In the last 32, they met AC Leop­ards of Congo, a for­mi­da­ble foe with plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence in con­ti­nen­tal foot­ball. Sun­downs dealt with the chal­lenge well as they dis­patched Leop­ards 3-1 on ag­gre­gate (they won 2-0 at home and drew 1-1 in the sec­ond leg). That was in March and they pro­gressed to the last 16, one step away from the group stages.

Their 1-0 loss to AS Vita in the first leg plus the 2-1 win in the sec­ond leg (2-2 over­all with Vita ad­vanc­ing on away goals) seemed to have ended their African dream — at least in the Cham­pi­ons League. As per com­pe­ti­tion rules, Sun­downs had to drop down to the less ap­peal­ing Caf Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup.

They still showed some ap­petite as they ham­mered Medeama of Ghana 3-1 in the first leg only to lose the sec­ond leg 2-0. The ag­gre­gate score of 3-3 favoured Medeama, who had scored an away goal. That ap­peared to be the end of the road for the Brazil­ians. With the lo­cal pre-sea­son in sight, the Sun­downs play­ers, who had lit­tle rest, started to make hol­i­day plans.

Such plans, how­ever, were soon put on ice as the play­ers were hur­riedly called back to con­tinue with their Cham­pi­ons League quest. The fairy­tale was now in full swing as Vita Club were booted out for play­ing an in­el­i­gi­ble player against Stade Malien. Caf did not waste time in throw­ing out AS Vita from Congo and re­plac­ing them with Sun­downs, a club they had edged out be­fore the group stages.

Group stages Sun­downs started the group stages with a 2-0 win away to ES Setief on June 18. The Tu­nisian club could not stom­ach the re­sult and fan trou­ble en­sued. That spec­ta­cle in­vited the ire of Caf, who booted the club out, leav­ing only three teams in Group B.

Eny­imba were up next for Sun­downs and they man­aged well as they handed the Nige­ri­ans a 2-1 beat­ing at Lu­cas Moripe Sta­dium. They fol­lowed that up with 2-1 and 1-0 vic­to­ries against Za­malek to se­cure a place in the final. The 3-1 de­feat against Eny­imba in the final group match did not mat­ter for Sun­downs as they were al­ready through to the semi-fi­nals.

Semi-fi­nals Sun­downs started off with a wobbly in the semi-fi­nals as they lost 2-1 to Zesco United in the first leg but they quickly cor­rected that in Pre­to­ria to ad­vance 3-2 on ag­gre­gate.

The final The stage was set for an epic African Cham­pi­ons League final. Sun­downs had just lost the MTN8 final against Bid­Vest Wits, a re­sult that prompted Mosi­mane to say “it’s easy to win the MTN8 . . . we have big­ger fish to fry in the Cham­pi­ons League.”

Za­malek ap­peared a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent af­ter ham­mer­ing Wy­dad Ath­letic Club 4-0 in the first leg only for the Moroccan club to come out guns blaz­ing in the sec­ond leg. The sec­ond leg of this semi-final ended 5-2 in favour of Wy­dad but the Egyp­tians pro­gressed with a 6-5 ag­gre­gate win.

Sun­downs, who had beaten Za­malek twice in the ini­tial stages (home and away) ap­peared less in­tim­i­dated as they reg­is­tered a 3-0 first leg win at Lu­cas Moripe. They lost the sec­ond leg 1-0 in Cairo but that was im­ma­te­rial as the tie was sealed 3-1 on ag­gre­gate.

That vic­tory ended a 21-year SA wait for Caf Cham­pi­ons League glory. Or­lando Pi­rates were the last and only SA club to win the Cham­pi­ons League in 1995. It was also some per­sonal glory for Mosi­mane as he be­came the first SA coach to lift this tro­phy. — Su­perS­port

Mamelodi Sun­downs won the Caf Cham­pi­ons League final on Sun­day when they de­feated Egyp­tian giants Za­malek 3-1 on ag­gre­gate

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