The Democratic Republic of Congo outfit, although deservedly punished for fielding an ineligible player, still feel they were in the strongest possible position to win the tournament as they broke into the group stages.
Instead it was Sundowns who went all the way to clinch the Holy Grail, bouncing back from being knocked out by Vita in the playoffs for the group stages over two legs and again by Ghana’s Medeama at a similar stage, but in the CAF Confederation Cup this time.
Pitso Mosimane, the Sundowns coach, even claimed recently that attempts to organise a friendly match between the South African side and Vita was rejected, probably on the grounds that the DRC team still harboured ill feelings.
The Brazilians were on the road as early as Sunday to try and acclimatise to the hot conditions in Kinshasa and the artificial pitch they will be playing on today (4.30pm kickoff SA time).
It’s crucial to prepare early given how the head-to-head sheet doesn’t favour Sundowns, who have beaten Vita just once in four previous fixtures, coach Florent Ibenge’s men winning twice and the other match ending in a stalemate.
One man hoping to give the Brazilians the edge is Themba Zwane, especially after Sundowns could only manage a goalless draw at home against Saint George of Ethiopia in their opening fixture 11 days ago.
“I think we are expecting the same intensity as before,” said Zwane on facing Vita. “We know them well because we played each other a few times already.
“We also watched their previous game (a 3-1 defeat away to Esperance), and they use their pace to go forward and they will wait for the counter. So, we are clear about what to expect, and we have been given instructions on how to deal with that.”
Both sides haven’t had the ideal start to their group stages campaign, and with Sundowns being defending champions, Zwane admitted to being a little anxious.
“We needed the win in our opening game, obviously, but we got a draw, which I didn’t think was too bad,” the winger said.
“We are going into this second game knowing we have to win. I think people have that expectation now that we are trying to retain the trophy. We are feeling a little bit under pressure, but we know how to handle it.”
Along with Zwane, forward Yannick Zakri will also be another key player against Vita, seeing that he has finally found his scoring touch after taking some time to adjust since joining Sundowns in August last year.
The Ivorian striker, recruited from Asec Mimosas where he was their go-to man upfront, has scored four goals in his last four league games for the Brazilians, and his experience in the Champions League will come in handy now that he is beginning to show his worth.