Sun­downs stum­ble against solid Stars

Saturday Star - - SPORT - FOOT­BALL RE­PORTER

LOBI STARS (1)2

Kone 45pen, Mathias 57 MAMELODI SUN­DOWNS (1)1 Laf­for 37

MAMELODI Sun­downs started their CAF Cham­pi­ons League cam­paign in the worst pos­si­ble way, los­ing to the low­est-ranked team in their group – Nige­ria’s Lobi Stars. Stars beat the 2016 win­ners in only their se­cond ap­pear­ance in the group stage, which is the fur­thest they have been in this com­pe­ti­tion.

The Or­tom Boys’ coach Solomon Og­beide was bullish about his team’s chances be­fore the match. He did how­ever ad­mit that they were the un­der­dogs against the for­mer African cham­pi­ons. But Og­beide ar­gued that Nige­ria’s na­tional team has been dom­i­nant against their South African coun­ter­parts, los­ing only one com­pet­i­tive match in a long-held ri­valry that stretches be­yond the foot­ball pitch and crosses into pol­i­tics too. He was con­fi­dent Stars would con­tinue that Nige­rian dom­i­nance over the South African cham­pi­ons, and his team did just that, record­ing a fa­mous win.

While Og­beide spoke with con­fi­dence, his Sun­downs’ coun­ter­part Pitso Mosi­mane was un­usu­ally cau­tious as he hadn’t seen much of the Nige­ri­ans. But he did know that they pose a big threat from their phys­i­cal pres­ence. The Brazil­ians coun­tered Stars’ phys­i­cal and aerial strength by start­ing with three cen­tre­backs – Mosa Le­busa, Ri­valdo Coet­zee and Ri­cardo Nasci­mento – and al­lowed the full­backs who are for­mer wingers to at­tack with free­dom.

That speed gave Sun­downs the lead. A swift counter from a long ball played to Gas­ton Sirino pierced opened the burly but slow Nige­rian side. The Uruguayan wiz­ard then put the ball on the plat­ter for An­thony Laf­for to give the vis­i­tors the lead. The Liberian, who thrives in big matches, made no mis­take.

But that lead was short-lived with Stars re­spond­ing swiftly. Yaya Kone equalised just be­fore half­time from the penalty spot, after Nasci­mento had brought down Sun­day Ade­tunji in­side his box. Sun­downs kept their com­po­sure just as they had through­out this match, not pan­ick­ing but play­ing the ball calmly from the back even though they were play­ing on an ar­ti­fi­cial pitch.

The Nige­ri­ans were no slouches. They also kept the ball well and didn’t cower at the sight of their more suc­cess­ful op­po­nents, and started the se­cond half the more dom­i­nant of the two.

Sa­muel Mathias put them in front after a scram­ble in the box, and then Sun­downs pressed the Nige­ri­ans high up in search of an equaliser and a cru­cial point away but the Nige­ri­ans stood res­o­lute.

The Brazil­ians now have a mam­moth task on their hands.

They have to beat Morocco’s Wy­dad Casablanca in their next match next week. The Moroc­cans are a thorn in the flesh of Sun­downs, hav­ing beateb them in the quar­ter­fi­nals in 2017 and then go­ing all the way to lift the Cham­pi­ons League. Last year Sun­downs only col­lected one point, at home, against Wy­dad as they lost the away leg in Casablanca in the group stage.

What won’t help Sun­downs is that they have a tricky match against strug­gling Mar­itzburg United on Wed­nes­day be­fore host­ing the Moroc­cans. This will not only test Sun­downs’ men­tal strength but also their re­solve as they need to pick them­selves quickly if they are to do bet­ter than last sea­son, where they crashed out in the group stage of the Cham­pi­ons League in a rel­a­tively easy group.

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