It’s that 3-1 victory that has given goalkeeper Denis Onyango and his teammates the confidence and arrogance to be sure that tonight’s Group C opponents, and a formidable one at that in Tunisia’s Esperance, who are joint top of the log with the Brazilians, aren’t to be feared.
The three-times African Champions invade Lucas Moripe Stadium at 8pm looking for a win that will make them run-away leaders of the group – but so are Sundowns, the title holders.
“It’s the only trophy that is left for us now because we have missed out on so much,” said Onyango, reflecting on having to surrender the Absa Premiership to Bidvest Wits two weeks ago and falling short of any other domestic silverware. “Right now the big picture is winning the Champions League for a second time in a row.
"We are playing a very experienced team, a side that has won this cup before and they have been in the top tournaments in the world. For me, this is one of the biggest teams we are facing this year and it is a boost for us to be playing at home because we believe we can get the maximum points.”
In turning their progress in the group around with the away win over Vita last week, Sundowns have put themselves in pole position to make it to the quarterfinal phase of the competition despite the early setback of being held to a goalless draw by Saint George from Ethiopia in their opening fixture nearly three weeks ago.
“Yes we fumbled a little bit in the first game, but we turned the tables around because we go to Tunis (on June 21) after this weekend’s game. That is why it is important to try and beat Esperance here so that by the time we play our last game against Vita (also at home) we won’t be under any pressure,” the goalkeeper explained.
Onyango also cast his eye on the upcoming Premier League campaign, which usually kicks off in early August with the MTN8 – a season opener involving the teams that finished the previous term in the top eight. Downs were runners-up behind champions Wits.
“It is important for us to wrap up the group stages as soon as we can. We want to fight for the MTN8 as well in the new season.
“We know it won’t be easy, but the more we fight, the more energy we have. And I think when we score the goals we are capable of winning these important matches. I know we haven’t had enough clean sheets as we have been conceding a few goals, which isn’t good for the team or our reputation. We need that zero at the back.”
Onyango also didn’t rule out the fact that Saint George and Vita could still fight their way back to the top of the group, although their most recent results have given Esperance and Sundowns a leg-up on their quest for the quarterfinals.
“You can’t undermine both Vita and Saint George, who have two points and can get five if they win (they host Vita on Sunday),” he reasoned. “We are eyeing the next three out of the four remaining matches and being top of the log is our first prize, of course. We are the defending champions after all.”