Sweet victory for Brazilians as they head to Egypt with an overwhelming hometown win
Taking a comfortable lead and a clean slate to north Africa in a CAF interclub competition is a dream for any team.
Mamelodi Sundowns are living this dream heading to the second leg of their Champions League quarterfinal against Al Ahly, who must overturn a five-goal deficit in Egypt on Saturday.
The South African champions yesterday evoked memories of 2016 when they cut Ahly to shreds in the same manner they demolished another Egyptian powerhouse, Zamalek, also in Atteridgeville, when Sundowns went on to annex their maiden Champions League trophy.
Attaining the unthinkable feat against a side they had not beaten in four attempts was made even sweeter by the fact that the big win for Sundowns extended their unbeaten run in Pretoria to 12 games in this competition.
Prior to yesterday’s epic fixture, Orlando Pirates, SuperSport United and the now defunct Platinum Stars were the only other South African teams to have beaten the multiple Egyptian champions in the premier continental club competition.
But a five-goal annihilation for the eight-time African club champs is another story altogether.
Backed by a full house yesterday, Sundowns had no reason to disappoint the multitudes of the “yellow nation” that had packed the 29 000-seater stadium.
The home side took the early initiative, teasing the Ahly defence, with Gaston Sirino and Themba Zwane combining well to link up with Lebohang Maboe on the apex of their attack.
Despite close attention from the defenders, Maboe made the breakthrough for his team’s first real attempt at goal six minutes into the tie, but the striker miscued his shot. Nevertheless, these were positive signs as Sundowns moved up a gear, with quick transitions, to finally hurt the Egyptian champions.
A move involving Tebogo Langerman down the left flank culminated in Zwane tapping home – his sixth of the competition – just before the quarter-hour mark, while defender Wayne Arendse extended the lead 10 minutes later with another easy tap from a well-taken free kick by Sirino.
Rattled and unable to execute their game plan, Ahly later survived a double scare when efforts by Zwane and Hlompho Kekana came off the crossbar in quick succession later in the first half.
It was apparent that the forced substitution of key midfielder Saad Samir due to injury 19 minutes into the game was a huge setback for the north African powerhouse.
Samir was mainly Ahly’s link between their midfield and the strikers, but his absence left a hole in coach Martín Lasarte’s structure, where the intention had been to manage the game.
Coach Pitso Mosimane’s side did not take their foot off the pedal in the second half, which was quite impressive for a team that had played a taxing league game against Pirates on Monday.
The game was over as a contest when Ricardo Nascimento converted from the penalty spot almost immediately after the half-time break. However, it was Sirino’s goal just after the hour mark that deflated the Egyptians.
It was also a sweet moment for former Ahly player Phakamani Mahlambi, who rubbed peri-peri in the already open wound when he completed the rout a few minutes after coming on from bench.
Yesterday’s game also marked the return to action of Sundowns midfielder Sibusiso Vilakazi, who ruptured his Achilles tendon in October while on duty for Bafana Bafana.
Normally, teams such as Ahly are known for their rather cautious approach in the first leg of this kind of competition and then going for the jugular in the reverse fixture, but it remains to be seen how they will react this time around.
The camaraderie in Atteridgeville was nice to see, with Sundowns owner Patrice Motsepe joining the festivities on the pitch to sing along with the players and the jubilant supporters.
With their massive lead, Sundowns – who had initially budgeted a 3-0 scoreline going into the game – are only expected to advance to the semifinals in the return leg at the seaport city of Suez in northeastern Egypt on Saturday.