Sun­downs set for Club World Cup de­but

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Sport Starts Here -

MAMELODI Sun­downs will rep­re­sent Africa at the Fifa Club World Cup at the end of the year in Ja­pan after win­ning the 52nd edi­tion of the Caf Cham­pi­ons League.

Masan­dawana, or the ‘Brazil­ians’, as Sun­downs are called by their fans, did most of the hard work in the first leg of the fi­nal, beat­ing five-time cham­pi­ons Za­malek 3-0 at home.

Although the White Knights man­aged to turn things around in the Borg El Arabi Sta­dium in Alexan­dria and win 1-0 through Stan­ley Ohawuchi’s sec­ond-half goal, it was a case of too lit­tle, too late.

The Cham­pi­ons Sun­downs suf­fered a scare in the pre­lim­i­nary round when they were beaten 1-0 by Zim­bab­wean club Chicken Inn. They turned things around at home and won 2-0 to ad­vance to the first round where they over­came AC Leop­ards. In the play-off stages they were elim­i­nated from the com­pe­ti­tion by Vita Club, and yet they were re­in­stated after it was ruled that the club from Congo DR had used an in­el­i­gi­ble player in a pre­vi­ous round.

With an­other lease on life and a spot in the group stage, Sun­downs achieved a re­mark­able two vic­to­ries in North Africa, where pick­ings for vis­it­ing teams are gen­er­ally slim. Beat­ing ES Setif (who were dis­qual­i­fied after the game) and Za­malek saw the team through to the semi­fi­nals with a match­day to spare. In the round of the last four they faced south­ern African ri­vals Zesco United and man­aged to over­turn a 2-1 first-leg de­feat at home.

For­mer Bafana Bafana coach Pitso Mosi­mane man­aged to build a team with­out any tra­di­tional goalscorer, re­sult­ing in a sit­u­a­tion where 11 play­ers shared their 19 goals – with two com­ing from own goals. Sur­pris­ingly, none of the Sun­downs play­ers man­aged to score more than two.

Sun­downs suc­cess is only the sec­ond time that a South African coun­try has won the show­piece event of African club foot­ball. The coun­try’s only other vic­tory came in 1995, when Or­lando Pi­rates beat ASEC Mi­mosas 1-0 in Abid­jan after be­ing held to a 2-2 draw at home.

Key Points Eny­imba’s Mfon Udoh was the com­pe­ti­tion’s top scorer with nine goals – seven of which he scored be­fore the group stage, in­clud­ing a stun­ning hat-trick in a 3-0 win against 2007 win­ners Etoile du Sa­hel. As his goals dried up, so too did Eny­imba’s progress and by the time he fi­nally found the back of the net in the eight-term group stage, the Peo­ple’s Ele­phant had al­ready been elim­i­nated. Be­hind the Nige­rian hit­man, Wy­dad Casablanca’s Reda Ha­jhouj and Idriss Mbombo, who plays for Zesco United fol­lowed with six and five goals re­spec­tively.

Hold­ers TB Mazembe failed to make it through to the group phase after be­ing beaten 2-0 in Morocco by Wy­dad Casablanca. A sur­pris­ingly slug­gish 1-1 draw at home was not enough to see Les Cor­beaux go through, end­ing their dream of a sixth ti­tle.

The record hold­ers Al Ahly man­aged to get through to the group phase – hav­ing failed to do so in the last two years, but they stum­bled badly, picking up just one point from their open­ing three matches – in­clud­ing two at home.

There was dis­ap­point­ment for Su­danese clubs as both Al Mer­reikh and Al Hi­lal failed to ad­vance to the last eight after mak­ing the semi­fi­nals in 2015. Both fell on the wrong side of the away goals tie-breaker, Al Hi­lal knocked out by Libyan club Al Ahly, while Al Mer­reikh were elim­i­nated by ES Setif.

The stat 7 – The num­ber of games that Sun­downs won at home in the event. Their 100-per cent record saw them score 14 goals and con­cede just two as their de­fence proved vir­tu­ally im­pen­e­tra­ble in front of their own fans.

Did you know? Sun­downs are the only club to date that won the Cham­pi­ons League after hav­ing been knocked out of the com­pe­ti­tion in the same year. The South African club lost in the play-off rounds against Con­golese club Vita Club and had to com­pete in the CAF Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup, where they lost again in the play-off stage – beaten by Medeama from Ghana.

They were re­in­stated into the Cham­pi­ons League after it was ruled that Vita Club had used an in­el­i­gi­ble player in one of their pre­vi­ous rounds and were dis­qual­i­fied. Sun­downs were al­lowed to take their place in the group stages, and they made the most of their sec­ond chance.

What they said “The best team won the Cham­pi­ons League, but we were bet­ter in the sec­ond leg. We needed but didn’t get an early goal to come­back and gain con­fi­dence,” Za­malek coach Moa­men Soli­man, speak­ing after the fi­nal.

“It wasn’t easy at all. There were dif­fi­cul­ties, but now we will be fac­ing the best teams in the world at the Club World Cup,” Sun­downs’ South African Player of the Year Khama Bil­liat.— Su­per­sport.

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