JOHANNESBURG – After the final whistle went off at Lucas Masterpieces Stadium, Pitso Mosimane raced down the tunnel in dejection.
It was an expected reaction as his Al Ahly side had to progress to the semifinal of the Champions League after a gruesome quarterfinal tie.
And this was against his former employers Mamelodi Sundowns. Sundowns, who he led to the continental crown five years ago, held the Red Devils, who are the defending champions, to a 1-all draw in Tshwane yesterday afternoon.
There’s been some mouth-watering ties between Sundowns and Al Ahly in the past. And this season’s quarter-final’s encounter was up there with the rest. But it was not that it produced the expected outings with Sundowns failing to beat Al Ahly at home, and vice versa.
Instead, it marked the first encounter between Mosimane and his former employers. And what way for it to unfold than the master hosting his students to a 2-0 win at home, before sealing the tie 3-1 on aggregate as the defending champions progressed to the semifinals.
But it's not that Mosimane took anything for granted as he barked instructions from his dugout from the first to the final whistle. Even when Peter Shalulile looked to have doubled Sundowns' tally with a ball that came off his hand, Mosimane was the first to protest for a handball.
After that defeat away from home, Sundowns were surely not going to have an easy outing in their bid to overturn the deficit on home turf. Nonetheless the players appeared to have heeded to the confidence talk of their coaches midweek as they started on a high note.
That start, though, was paused until the 10th minute. Mosa Lebusa's header towards his own goal failed to reach goalkeeper Denis Onyango as it rolled away for a corner-kick. Ayman Ashraf whipped in the resultant corner-kick which was flicked to the far post by Amro Elsoulia.
That effort found an unmarked Yasser El Hanafi whose header kissed the roof of the net. The visitors who had filled the better part of the VIP section burst into life, adding to the on-pitch jubilation which has seen most of Ahly’s players and staff embracing Mosimane in harmony.
Sundowns didn’t drop their guard, almost resonating Mosimane’s sentiments that “I’ve created a monster and it’s now come back to bite me.” After a great interplay upfront, Sundowns won a corner-kick which Aubrey Modiba took before picking out Lebusa who headed home.
Even before that equaliser, though, Siphelele Mkhulise came close to finding his team’s first. but he was unfortunate as his deft curling effort outside the box sailed into the empty stands. And that’s how the first stanza ended with the Brazilians showing a never-say-die attitude.
The Brazilians continued to apply the pressure earlier in the last half but they failed to find their footing up as the technical team was forced to bring on out-and-out striker Mauricio Affonso for playmaker Gaston Sirino. The former’s immediate contribution was cleared off the line.
Shalulile appeared to have brought some hope to Sundowns after finding the back of the net. But the referee judged for a handall, ruling out a homeside’s lead. Well Mosimane, who had raced his way to the linesman to protest, dragged his team closer to a successful title defence outing.