SUNDOWNS’ ROAD TO AFRICAN GLORY
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