JOHANNESBURG - Mamelodi Sundowns, the CAF Champions League title holders, must win away against Saint George of Ethiopia on Saturday to keep their pursuit of a rare feat of defending their trophy - unthinkable in the continent’s premier club competition - within their grasp.
And coach Pitso Mosimane will be the first to admit that the Brazilians have themselves to blame for being in a precarious situation in that they must beat Saint George, the surprise package in Group C of the tournament.
The little known outfit used the goalless draw on the road at Sundowns in mid-May to prove their mettle as no pushovers during the first round of matches, arriving at the Lucas Moripe Stadium with very few expecting them to cause an upset and returning to Addis Ababa with a hard-fought point.
They have run everyone in the group - leaders Esperance and bottom of the log AS Vita - close since then.
Sundowns had managed to bounce back in a manner that suggested they, along with Tunisia’s Esperance, would be outright favourites to progress to the quarter-finals when they thumped Vita 3-1 at the lion’s den that is Kinshasa.
This was perhaps the most notable result in the group, especially given the history between the two sides after the South Africans were allowed back into last year’s competition following Vita’s disqualification, and then went all the way to win the Champions League trophy.
But Sundowns have often looked a shadow of that marauding side in this edition of the tournament, as the victory over Vita is their only win in the group to date.
They were beaten 2-1 by Esperance in their own backyard earlier this month, much to Mosimane’s dismay, who lamented the unavailability of key players like Ricardo Nascimento, Wayne Arendse, Anthony Laffor, Khama Billiat, captain Hlompho Kekana and Yannick Zakri.
The return of some of these match-winners two weeks later indeed strengthened the Downs line-up when they went to Esperance in the away match, but failure to win there - held to a goalless draw - has put pressure on the defending champions to try and dismantle plucky Saint George before they welcome Vita to the Lucas Moripe Stadium next weekend in the final round of matches.
Sundowns aren’t the only SA side involved in a win or bust scenario on Saturday, their crosstown rivals SuperSport United also in a dicey CAF Confederation Cup fixture they simply cannot afford to lose when they face Horoya away in Conakry, Guinea.
Matsatsantsa, who retained the Nedbank Cup title a week ago in Durban after beating Orlando Pirates 4-1 in the final, squandered a chance to occupy the summit when they could only manage a goalless draw against holders TP Mazembe in Atteridgeville, leaving Horoya to move to the top of Group D after they narrowly beat whipping boys CF Mounana 1-0 in Conakry.
Like Sundowns, SuperSport endured a rather poor start as they dropped their guard and laboured to a 2-2 stalemate with Horoya in an earlier fixture between the two sides in May, a group opener played at the Lucas Moripe Stadium.
Mazembe are expected to beat CF Mounana away in Libreville on Saturday, putting pressure on SuperSport to go all out for a win in their match.
It will be a last assignment for assistant coach Kaitano Tembo, who had taken over their Confederation Cup campaign with Stuart Baxter juggling the Bafana Bafana job at the same time.
Former Cape Town City mentor Eric Tinkler has been appointed SuperSport coach as of on Saturday, but the club decided to allow Kaitano to see off their CAF group stages campaign.