Sundowns, What A Special Bunch!
They humiliated, embarrassed, outfoxed, outplayed, obliterated and dominated the most successful team in the African continent, Egypt’s Al-Ahly! No one would’ve written such a script, but everyone enjoyed the Mamelodi Sundowns show.
Who would have thought that coach Pitso Mosimane’s charges would wallop The Red Devils 5-0 in the first leg of the CAF Champions League quarter-finals? Not even the Uruguayan legend, Martin Lasarte, could have predicted that Saturday, 6 April, at Lucas Moripe Stadium, would mark his worst day in the office since taking over the reins at Ahly in December 2018. Surely, this was one of the worst days in his coaching career and one wonders if he even caught a wink that night. The backlash that surely awaited him back home, with such a rich and proud history dismantled under his watch, must have been unbearable.
I must admit, I wasn’t one of those who was brave enough to predict such a hiding, let alone an impressive victory for Downs. I quietly had my reservations when the Chloorkop-based side failed to finish top of Group A, following their 1-0 away loss to nemesis, Moroccan side Wydad Athletic Club, who badly needed a win to keep their quarter-finals hopes alive, without relying on other results. Knowing that finishing second would mean facing a team that finished first in one of the other three groups worried me a little. I saw the failure to beat or get a point from Casablanca as a result that could come back to haunt the Brazilians in the knockout stages.
My fears were confirmed when they drew the most decorated football club in the African continent, Ahly. The two club’s head-to-head statistics didn’t read too well before this game, something that made me a bit uneasy and saw me lament the Brazilians’ failure to finish on top of Group A and subsequently drawing one of the less-fancied teams that finished second. Little did I know that Pitso John Hamilton Mosimane, his technical team and the boys had an ace, a massive one at that, up their sleeves!
They planned meticulously, executed their game plan diligently and made the whole South Africa proud. For, they’re the only remaining side carrying our country’s hopes in the inter-club competition. While it is an open secret that Ahly haven’t been the same side over the last couple of seasons, their experience in this competition has always been enough to see them through. It is, therefore, naïve for anyone to downplay Sundowns’ impressive display and victory on the basis that they faced a ‘weak’ Ahly team. Sundowns had to do something right to embarrass The Club of the Century like that, especially a few days after playing a high-intensity game against Orlando Pirates with pretty much the same squad.
What is fact is that Mosimane’s name will now go into the Egyptian giants’ history books as the first coach to mastermind such a record defeat in the club’s history in the CAF Champions League! The current Sundowns team will also find themselves in the history books as the first group from the Chloorkop base to secure a victory against the eight-time African champions. Talk about getting a monkey off your back in style! The impressive victory was by no means a fluke! Speaking to the media straight after the game, Mosimane revealed that – as part of their preparations for the much-anticipated clash – they watched eight recent games of their opponents and tried to squeeze them into two 15-minute presentations for their players. “It’s the preparation that won us this match. It’s not luck. What came out wasn’t luck. Al-Ahly probably didn’t know that Sundowns can dig deep and prepare like that because we are a small club. I don’t think they expected this. But above that, it’s the players who played according to the way we play. In Egypt, we are going to put more speed, probably Phaka (Phakamani Mahlambi), Thapelo (Morena) and Lebo (Lebohang Maboe). We are going to put more speed because they have to score. They will try to push us to score five goals. We are going to make it difficult for them.”
If Mosimane’s words don’t sum up the level of preparation that took place behind the scenes at Sundowns, I don’t know what does. The fact that, straight after the game, the plan for the second leg was already in Mosimane’s head means they went into this game with all the permutations calculated. What was further impressive about Mosimane is his humility, instead of boasting about the record-breaking victory, sending a strong message to his charges to remain firmly on the ground instead of getting carried away. There’s still a long way to go as football can be such a cruel game. The second leg will not be a walk in the park, Sundowns clearly know that, but the best thing to do in these kinds of games is to take control of what you can and leave the rest to take care of itself. Sundowns did themselves a great deal of favour by making full use of the home ground advantage and thus putting themselves in a favourable position. Whatever happens in Cairo will happen, but surely, they’ve done enough to fancy their chances of progressing to the last four of the tournament.
You have to marvel at this special bunch of Sundowns players and their technical team, they’re simply the best! All the best in the second leg, lads.
I have been complaining about the poor attendance figures and recognition of this tournament in our teams’ home games and continuously making a clarion call to our supporters to rally behind our teams. I must admit, the beautiful sight of the capacity-packed Moripe Stadium was something we could definitely get used to. Well done to everyone who took time to support Sundowns and ensure that the visitors felt like that, as visitors. Surely everyone who didn’t attend felt like they were missing out, watching on television, as the Brazilians didn’t disappoint. They lived up to expectations and even outdid themselves this special bunch!
A hat off to the supporters who also filled Moses Mabhida Stadium to support our Banyana Banyana in their last home preparatory game against Jamaica for the FIFA Women’s World Cup to be held in France in June and July. It was certainly a record attendance figure for the ladies’ game and that can only augur well for our team’s morale. South African football is in a really good space, although there’s still room for improvement.