JOHANNESBURG – Anthony Laffor, often described by Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane as the man for the big occasions, delivered a massive goal for the Brazilians in Saturday’s CAF Champions League group phase fixture away to Saint George to win 1-0.
The visitors had weathered a first-half storm, including seeing their goalkeeper Denis Onyango save a penalty before the break, but kicked on in the second to claim the much needed three points.
Laffor was set up by substitute Thapelo Morena in the 86th minute, the Liberian popping up in the Saint George box to become the hero of the day.
It was Laffor who guaranteed Sundowns a place in the group stages of the Champions League back in March, when his side looked to be on their way out of the tournament on the away-goal rule against Kampala Capital City of Uganda.
The winger put his name on the score-sheet to hand Sundowns a 3-2 aggregate win, keeping their hopes of retaining the title alive.
He pretty much did the same on Saturday afternoon in Addis Ababa in front of a capacity crowd at the National Stadium, helping the Brazilians hand Saint George a defeat for the first time in the group phase.
Sundowns have advanced to the quarter-finals after AS Vita drew 2-2 on Saturday night with Esperance, who are also through to the next round.
The victory pushes the defending champions to eight points, and means Sundowns can host Vita, a side they thrashed 3-1 away from home early last month, without too much pressure in the final match of Group C next weekend.
But for a while, especially in the opening minutes of their clash against Saint George, it didn’t look like Mosimane’s men would enjoy the advantage they now have.
The home side were a threat from the beginning and came close on several occasions, forcing Sundowns to defend quite deep.
Young defender Motjeka Madisha nearly cracked under the pressure and almost had the ball in his own net with a clearance that had obviously gone wrong, but it fortunately came off the woodwork.
Then goalkeeper Onyango was called on to make a big save on the stroke of halftime when the referee pointed to the spot, as he felt right back Anele Ngcongca had handled the ball in the box.
Onyango, the reigning African Footballer of the Year based on the continent, managed to hold on to his clean-sheet when he denied striker Saladin Sahid.
Sundowns not only had to deal with aggressive opponents who were thriving under the incredible home support, but a cabbage patch of a pitch, too.
However, they return home victors thanks to a well-taken Laffor strike that sees them with one foot in the quarter-finals.
Sundowns welcome AS Vita to the Lucas Moripe Stadium next Sunday.
* This story has been updated.