Mamelodi Sundowns ease to opening CAF Champions League win

Gaston Sirino of Mamelodi Sundowns celebrates goal with teammates during the CAF Champions League 2023/24 match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Nouadhibou at Loftus Stadium in Pretoria

Gaston Sirino of Mamelodi Sundowns celebrates goal with teammates during the CAF Champions League 2023/24 match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Nouadhibou at Loftus Stadium in Pretoria on Sunday. Picture: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Published Nov 26, 2023


It was as easy as the 3-0 score suggests for Mamelodi Sundowns over FC Nouadhibou, and it should have been a much more emphatic margin. Not that the Brazilians were complaining, for such is the nature of CAF Champions League football that victory is all that matters.

Goal difference is not a feature in terms of deciding continental competitions with CAF using the head-to-head results to determine victors, should there be a tie. And the Mauritania outfit were never going to be seen as a potential opponent for the top two spots in a group that also includes Egypt’s Pyramids and the DRC’s TP Mazembe.

So, while they could well have scored a handful of goals, Sundowns did well to win and go top of the group with the same number of points with Pyramids who beat TP Mazembe 1-0.

The result was actually never in doubt, Rulani Mokwena’s team going in as favourites following their win in the inaugural African Football League (AFL) final a fortnight ago.

Great depth

As if that triumph was not warning enough to the rest of the continent that they mean business, Sundowns showed with this solid performance that they have great depth to seriously challenge for a second Champions League title since their victory back in 2016.

Mokwena used a very different team from his usual squad, resting a few players who were with the national team and brining on a number who have not been getting regular time. And there was no telling that the likes of Rushine De Reuck, Terrence Mashego, Sphelele Mkhulise, Thapelo Morena and Neo Maema have been warming the bench in recent times.

Granted it took them some time get going, but they sent an early warning of their intentions when Mashego made a brilliant run on the left and passed the ball to Maema whose left-footed attempt was easily saved by goalkeeper Babacar Diop.

Yet once they scored that opening goal it was one way traffic with Sundowns looking dangerous whenever they ventured forward. They opened the scoring via Lucas Ribeiro, after a fantastic break which saw them win possession just inside their own half and Khuliso Mudau made a fantastic run forward. The rightback then released the ball to Morena who teed it up for Ribeirio who controlled well before smashing a grass-cutter into the net.

It was 2-0 just five minutes later, this time Peter Shalulile heading in unmarked following a brilliant corner kick by Marcelo Allende, the set piece coming about via a strange hard back pass towards Diop.

Morena chances

They came back from the break fired up and Morena had two successive chances to extend the lead but failed. He initially forced a save out of Diop who battled to handle the threat and in the ensuing goalmouth melee a misunderstanding with his defender nearly brought up a goal. The ball fortunately bounced off Morena and went over.

Shortly thereafter a good counter attack was initiated by Ribeiro who threaded a fantastic through ball to Shalulile, and the Namibian unselfishly offloaded the ball to Morena when shooting for goal appeared the best option. The pass was a little behind Morena who scuffed the ball way over target.

Mokwena made three changes and one of those was the introduction of Gaston Sirino who scored the third goal via a splendid training ground free-kick sent over the wall where the Sundowns players were standing. They crouched in unison for the Uruguayan to get the ball through where they were and beat the substitute goalkeeper Mamadou Mbodj who who had come on after Diop was sent off for hacking Sirino for the set piece.

It was a consummately easy win as expected, but Sundowns know that it gets harder after this – what with Mazembe lying in wait for their next match and Pyramids looking likely to be their main competitors for the top two spots into the knockout stage.