BARCA MAGIC

The Mercury - - FRONT PAGE - PIC­TURE: SA­MUEL SHIVAMBU/BACKPAGEPIX

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi is chal­lenged by Tiyani Mabunda and Mot­jeka Madisa of Mamelodi Sun­downs dur­ing the 2018 Man­dela Cen­te­nary Cup friendly match be­tween the soc­cer clubs at FNB Sta­dium in Soweto last night. The Ar­gen­tinian ma­gi­cian, who was ar­guably the most pop­u­lar draw­card for the al­most 80 000-strong crowd, only came on in the 73rd minute but re­ceived a warm re­cep­tion in the chilly weather. Barca beat Sun­downs 3-1.

FNB Sta­dium Mamelodi Sun­downs (0) 1 Vi­lakazi 76’ Barcelona (2) 3 Dem­bele 3, Suarez 18, Gomes 66

THREE mis­takes, three goals and just over the hour mark Mamelodi Sun­downs were down for the count and Barcelona had done what they were ex­pected to do – eas­ily brush aside the Brazil­ians.

Lionel Messi wasn’t even on the field by the time Barcelona were 3-0 up. The Ar­gen­tine started on the bench due to the mi­nor knock he was car­ry­ing, giv­ing Percy Tau a head start in the Percy vs Messi duel. Tau turned the sold-out crowd here into lions as they roared for his ev­ery touch. But Barcelona were the real lions, de­vour­ing Sun­downs in an in­ter­na­tional friendly that’s part of the Nelson Man­dela cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions.

The Brazil­ians could have used some Madiba Magic in an up­hill bat­tle against the Span­ish cham­pi­ons. In the ab­sence of the magic from the late for­mer Pres­i­dent, Sun­downs had to make do with Tau magic.

But Sun­downs’ tal­is­man was with­out his magic wand. He was starved of the ball through Barcelona’s good press­ing game. In the mo­ments Tau had the ball he showed glimpses of his magic but it wasn’t enough. He broke free early into the match thanks to his pace and tried to cheek­ily chip the ball over Marc-An­dre ter Ste­gen but it didn’t have enough power be­hind it.

The Percy vs Messi “show” was a damp squib. Tau strug­gled to take a lead­ing role and the Ar­gen­tine was on the bench for the bet­ter part of this match. Messi how­ever eas­ily won this “con­test” as he re­ceived loud ap­plauses from just warm­ing up. When he en­tered in the 73rd minute this sta­dium looked like a disco light, brightly lit by flash lights from ador­ing fans who wanted to cap­ture a mo­ment of ar­guably the best player of his gen­er­a­tion. The fans chanted Messi’s name at the start of the sec­ond half, de­mand­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of the man that most peo­ple here came to see.

While Messi was on the bench, Ous­mane Dem­bele and Luis Suarez gave the fans rea­sons to cheer with their early goals. Both those goals came be­cause of an er­ror from Souma­horo Ban­galy at the back. The third Barcelona goal also came from a de­fen­sive er­ror, a sloppy pass at the back that was pu­n­ished by An­dre Gomes. The Catalan gi­ants made Sun­downs pay for those mis­takes, of­fer­ing them a free les­son on how costly any slip-up is on the in­ter­na­tional stage.

Sun­downs’ coach Pitso Mosi­mane was calm for most of this match. He had al­ready re­signed him­self to the fact that Sun­downs would lose to Barcelona, an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic state­ment from a man who al­ways backs his team. But it wasn’t a state­ment of cow­ardice, he was be­ing in touch with re­al­ity.

With that re­al­i­sa­tion at the back of his mind, all Mosi­mane wanted from his play­ers was for them to put on a de­cent show and not let the Span­ish gi­ants walk all over them. Sibu­siso Vi­lakazi stepped up and scored the con­so­la­tion goal.

Sun­downs learnt valuable les­sons, like the need for a re­li­able cen­tre­back if they are to go far in the Caf Cham­pi­ons League.

The Brazil­ians’ short­com­ings in de­fence in the do­mes­tic league are masked by their strong at­tack and the fact that few teams go toe-to-toe with them. They buckle un­der pres­sure from strong op­po­nents. This is what hap­pened here last night.

PIC­TURE: SA­MUEL SHIVAMBU/BACKPAGEPIX

Sibu­siso Vi­lakazi of Mamelodi Sun­downs chal­lenged by An­dres Ini­esta dur­ing their Man­dela Cen­te­nary Cup Friendly match at the FNB Sta­dium, Jo­han­nes­burg last night.

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