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Mamelodi Sundowns held to a draw by Sudan’s Al Merrikh in Cairo

FILE - Mamelodi Sundowns co-coach Manqoba Mngqithi. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

FILE - Mamelodi Sundowns co-coach Manqoba Mngqithi. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Published Feb 19, 2022

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Johannesburg — Mamelodi Sundowns failed to make it two wins in two matches in the group stage of the CAF Champions League after they were held to a goalless stalemate by Al Merrikh at a neutral Al Saalam Stadium, Cairo, on Saturday afternoon.

Sundowns came into this match sitting at the top of Group A after their 1-0 win over Al Hilal at home last Friday. But after champions Al Ahly were held to a goalless draw by Al Hilal on Friday, they knew that full points would give them comfort.

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This draw ensured that they remained top of the group with four points. But a win would have given them a morale booster ahead of their match against the Pitso Mosimane coached Al Ahly at Cairo International Stadium on Saturday night.

Sundowns will take positives from the encounter though. They started well, despite taking their foot off the gas in the second half. There was even a full debut for Erwin Saavedra — although he couldn’t finish the first half due to an injury.

After arriving in Cairo on Tuesday night, the Brazilians had enough time to rest and prepare for this encounter. But their technical team was not taking any chances well, making two changes that drew with Baroka FC in the league on Monday.

Erwin Saavedra replaced Pavol Safranko, while Rivaldo Coetzee came in for Teboho Mokoena in the starting line-up. The two changes brought life to the Brazilians' attack and defence as they dominated possession from the outset today.

This was, arguably, Sundowns’ best start in all competitions since the start of the year. But some exceptional goalkeeping from Monged Abuzaid ensured that they had nothing to show for their dominance early on at the Al Saalam stadium.

Abuzaid’s first save came in the first three minutes after the start. He brilliantly rushed off his line to block a cut-back from Peter Shalulile as Themba Zwane was lurking. And it wasn’t long before he blocked a pin-point half-volley from Coetzee.

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Wing-back Khuliso Mudau also tried to test the waters from close-range after he intercepted a hospital pass from the far-right. But he unceremoniously fluffed his shot into the empty stands as the Sudanese-based side managed to hang on.

But despite the early dominance, the visitors escaped a scare midway through the first as Brian Onyango cleared the ball off his line after a scintillating counter-attack that saw Nooh Mohamed nearly pass his effort into an empty net.

After that scare, you’d have bet on the South Africans to ensure that they find the breakthrough to take full control of the match. But their wasteful act continued infront of goal as Shalulile failed to capitalise on another hospital back-pass.

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Before going to the break still deadlocked at 0-0, Al Merrikh once again came close to finding a surprise lead. But striker Tony Edjomariegwe could only put his long-range curler wide off target as Denis Onyango was forced into a full stretch.

Al Merrikh enjoyed a fair share of possession during the start of the second with counter-pressing football. But they, too, were let down by their finishing infront of goals. The few that came out continued to rally behind their team though.

After struggling to break down Al Merrikh’s wall, Sundowns tried to take shots from distance. But that proved to be futile as they sailed wide off goal — with the two teams only managing to share the points at the end of the encounter in Cairo.

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@Mihlalibaleka

IOL Sport

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