JOHANNESBURG - Nobody at Mamelodi Sundowns understands the concept of this afternoon’s CAF Champions League opposition, Saint George, being labelled the surprise package in the competition this year more than goalkeeper Denis Onyango.
“It’s amazing that in almost 12 years since I'm here, you still find the same faces working at the club and pushing for success,” said the Ugandan goal minder, who moved to South Africa in 2006 to join SuperSport United from the Ethiopian outfit.
It’s the first time Onyango returns to Saint George since leaving them for greener pastures, but the visit is far from friendly, Sundowns needing to win this penultimate clash in Group C of the Champions League before hosting AS Vita at Lucas Moripe Stadium a week later with the hope of progressing to the quarterfinals.
Now the reigning Footballer of the Year based in Africa, it’s clear he has made great strides since his departure.
“I think they are very proud to have had me playing for them and now coming back as a Champions League winner. They obviously follow my progress and watch the South African league, and I mention them each time I speak about my career,” said the ’keeper.
“I only played there for one season and I thought they would have forgotten all about me because so many players come and go. But I am sure they are looking forward to beating the champions.”
Onyango wasn’t omitting Sundowns when he explained why Saint George were underestimated at the start of the group phase, surprisingly managing to hold the Brazilians to a goalless draw in SA in the opening round of matches.
“I don’t think they have been in the group stages before, so everyone thought it would be easy to get results from them, but look where they are now with the same number of points (five) as us and only goal difference separating us,” said Onyango.
“This is why we also need to work hard, especially since we are playing them in Addis Ababa, their home ground. They haven’t lost a Champions League game there with four points from two games played at home.
“For us a draw will be enough, but we know if we win we can go top of the log and remain there because we believe Esperance will not beat Vita in Kinshasa (the other group match).
“We need to try and execute our game plan to get maximum points and remember that we should never undermine any team in Africa.”
Sundowns have not been as convincing in their attempt to retain the trophy as they were when they won it in October last year.
Coach Pitso Mosimane’s team have registered a single win, a 3-1 victory over Vita in May, before suffering a shock defeat to Esperance in their own backyard earlier last month.
Although they bounced back by dominating play away to the same team two weeks later, that goalless draw left them with a lot to do in their final two matches, starting with today’s fixture away to Saint George.
“They know what we can do. They came with a clear game plan the first time we played them,” said Onyango.
“I guess the PSL is watched all over the continent because they knew exactly how we would play. But what is important this time is to keep it tight at the back and take our chances when they come.”
Meanwhile, SuperSport United are also away to Horoya in Guinea for their Confederation Cup group clash.
They, too, desperately need a win to move a step closer to qualifying for the quarter-finals of the tournament.
They host CF Mounana of Gabon in their final match next weekend.