Pretoria - Mamelodi Sundowns roared a championship challenge as they cantered to a 2-0 win over DR Congo visitors Maniema Union FC in the second leg CAF Champions League preliminary round clash in Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Tshwane, on Sunday.
The 2-0 win, coupled with last week's 2-all draw, makes for a 4-2 aggregate and ensures that Sundowns have reached the group stages of the Champions League. Losers Maniema will have another chance at continental glory and will now play in the CAF Confederation Cup play-off round.
Sundowns made four changes to their run-on XI to strengthen the side and brought in Themba Zwane, Rivaldo Coetzee, Lyle Lakay and Grant Kekana, all of whom were rested for the recent midweek match.
They took the initiative from the outset and opted to stage their attacking sorties down the left channels. The ploy worked well and on occasions, they managed to round the defence and delivered a few goalmouth crosses. However, often the supporting players were slow to pounce in the striking zone.
It was left to the lethal boot of defender Lyle Lakay to open the scoring in the 23rd minute with a trademark thunderbolt free-kick. From the set-piece, just 15 metres outside the Maniema penalty area, the dead-ball specialist Lakay rifled the ball over the wall and past goalkeeper Brudel Liyongo.
The free-kick came about after the Egyptian referee Amin Omar blew up the visiting captain Dieu-Merci Mbiyeye for a handball. A few minutes later, Omar awarded another free-kick after Maniema defender Junior Ngbanda upended Sundowns striker Peter Shalulile as he set off on a run into the penalty area.
This time, Liyongo managed to turn Lakay's swinging effort safely away for a corner.
With Sundowns dictating play for most of the first half, Maniema had little chance to attack but when they did, they opted for long balls to bypass the opposition midfield. Sundowns' rearguard, however, gave them little chance to manoeuvre around the fringes of the goalmouth.
Just ahead of the break, Sundowns frontrunner Thabiso Kutumela latched onto a defence-splitting feed and ran in from 25 metres out. He outstripped the chasing defence and rounded the keeper, but his effort ended up wastefully in the side netting.
After Sundowns managed to protect their 1-0 lead by the time halftime whistle blew they returned for second-half duty. They wasted little time to steal a march on the visitors after nine minutes, and Lakay was again the provider from a set-piece. Liyongo could not hold on to his curling free-kick, and the bustling Shalulile shook off his marker to poke the stray ball into the net.
This insurance goal marked the beginning of the end for Maniema, who managed two excellent scoring efforts after trailing 2-0 but to no avail. Unlike last week, when he was beaten twice, the Sundowns keeper Denis Onyango was equal to the task.