Wydad Casablanca once again ended Mamelodi Sundowns’ dream to conquer the continent by beating them 2-1 on aggregate following a 0-0 draw in Atteridgeville on Saturday.
The Moroccan side knocked out the Brazilians in the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League, like they had done in the quarterfinals of the 2017 edition.
Wydad went on to win the Champions League that year, and there will be belief in Morocco that they can repeat that after eliminating the team that embarrassed Caf’s Club of the Century, Al Ahly.
Sundowns’ crucial away goal counted for nothing as the Brazilians failed to score in their own backyard.
This was the first time Sundowns finished a Champions League match without finding the back of the net at home this season.
Their potency in front of goal gave Pitso Mosimane hope going into the second leg knowing that “there’s always a goal in Atteridgeville”.
There was no goal on Saturday, and it proved costly, with Sundowns knocked out of the tournament that Mosimane is obsessed with.
The tournament that he said he was inspired to win this season – as he has said countless times that he isn’t inspired by the Premiership in this campaign due to the boardroom shenanigans regarding Sundowns starting with Wayne Arendse in a match they shouldn’t.
Mosimane has no choice but to find inspiration, as the league is their last chance of winning silverware this season.
If Sundowns don’t win the league, this will be the first season they would finish without silverware under Mosimane.
While their hearts were broken in Pretoria, their league hopes were restored in the Mother City, with Cape Town City holding Orlando Pirates to an entertaining 2-2 draw.
Should Sundowns win their last two matches, they will retain the Premiership, which would serve as consolation for losing the Champions League.
Sundowns weren’t aware of what was transpiring in Cape Town as their full focus was on Wydad.
The Moroccan giants were without two key players – captain Brahim Nekkach and the club’s top goal-scorer in this tournament, Mohamed Nahiri – due to suspension.
They didn’t miss the duo much such is the depth in their squad. Wydad’s defence was compact and organised because they knew Sundowns needed a goal to advance to the final.
The visitors didn’t exactly park the bus; they just defended smartly, much to the frustration of the Brazilians who gave it their all.
The Brazilians returned with more intent in the second half. Having failed to penetrate Wydad in the first half through their skills, their Plan B was using force and long balls in an attempt to power themselves into the lead.
Tiyani Mabunda and Hlompho Kekana’s potent boots fired from afar, but didn’t do any damage, so did the long diagonal passes Sundowns played on Wydad’s blindside.
Sundowns cut dejected figures at fulltime, even though Mosimane said he didn’t expect them to win the Champions League this year.
The aim was to use this campaign as preparation for next season. By then, the new faces like Lebogang Maboe, Phakamani Mahlambi and Lyle Lakay would have gelled into the team.
But the more they progressed, the more Sundowns believed that they would add a second star on top of their badge.
Wydad crushed those dreams to appear in their second Champions League final in two years.