Mamelodi Sundowns host Egyptian giants, Al Ahly, in the second leg of the CAF Champions League quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon. This follows the Club of the Century’s 2-0 win in their own backyard of Cairo International Stadium last Saturday.
The Chloorkop-based outfit has it all to do and are fully aware of the mountain they have to climb if they are to progress to the next round, the semi-finals. Coach Pitso Mosimane’s charges know they will have to dominate their opponents and even, if possible, repeat the history-making 5-0 drubbing they handed their more-fancied and experienced opponents in the same stage of the competition last season. It was in the first leg of the CAF Champions League quarterfinals that Sundowns embarrassed Ahly at Lucas Moripe Stadium.
The first leg encounter, this time around, was in Cairo and if the statistics are anything to go by, it was definitely not Sundowns’ day. The scoreline might flatter to deceive the South Africans, but Mosimane and his technical team have surely looked deeper than just the 2-0 scoreline in their analysis of the game. To put things into perspective, Sundowns only had 37% of ball possession, with Ahly enjoying the bulk of possession with a staggering 63% of the lion’s share. Yes, at this stage and on this level, ball possession doesn’t mean much, but it does help to paint the picture of the proceedings. Results are what matter most, many will argue, but you don’t just get the results without constructing enough touches on the ball and dictating terms. Ahly took 24 shots in an attempt to score, while Sundowns could only manage four. That’s a far cry and a worrying statistic looking at the two teams and definitely something that Downs will have to change on Saturday afternoon. Downs only had one shot on target compared to Ahly’s five, two of which obviously resulted in goals. Only one corner kick was awarded to the visiting team, with the hosts enjoying six of their own. That speaks to the pressure on one side and how well the other side managed any threats that were launched at them. That has also got to change in the second half if South Africa is to continue being represented in this continental showpiece.
On numerous occasions, we spoke about the importance of our teams not only participating but doing well at these continental tournaments. The fact that we have had four slots in the continent, with two teams representing us in the CAF Confederation Cup and two in the CAF Champions League, has been down to our teams doing well to take these games seriously. This season, we’ve only had Bidvest Wits and Sundowns in the Confederation and Champions League group stages respectively, with TS Galaxy and Orlando Pirates knocked out in the preceding rounds. That Sundowns are now the only team still involved means we’ve not covered ourselves in glory at all, with Wits not making it past the group stages. Wits only managed two draws and four losses from six games in their group, finishing last in the log standings. Sundowns, on the other hand, won four and drew two to finish top of Group C. They were the only unbeaten team in their group and the second, after with TP Mazembe, to finish without a loss in the whole Champions League group stages campaign.
Surely a team that has done so much to put South African football on the map deserves all the support they will need, going into this second leg clash. That’s why we need to paint Lucas Moripe Stadium yellow on Saturday and make sure that the visitors feel just like that – the visitors. It would be suicidal for Ahly supporters to dominate Sundowns on the stands as this is bigger than just the Chloorkop-based club. This is a national agenda that needs everyone’s attention and support. Just for Saturday, we should put aside all the different club allegiances and put on our patriotic caps and show why we are proud to be South Africans. We need to forget about the banter that goes on between different teams’ supporters and stick to serving our country by supporting Sundowns on the day. They need the support, they deserve our support as their continental success augurs well for our game. We need to continue with the trend of having four SA teams participating in the continent and that’s a challenge that other teams need to face and accept. We can do it and it begins with Sundowns reaching the semi-finals and possibly going all the way to secure their second star above their badge.
Let us all rally behind the team and ensure that they feel our presence and support on the day. That would go a long way in changing our mindset about continental football and realise that we need each other more. We need to pull out all the stops to get our people at the stadiums as anything less than a capacity crowd – intimidating the opposition while encouraging the home team – will be playing into Ahly’s hands and make them feel at home. It is not just Downs’ responsibility to get the crowds behind their team but every South African’s. Any team representing the country should get all the support from all the stakeholders, including government, because they are raising the country’s flag and not just their own. That way, we might see more teams go an extra mile to represent us well.