JOHANNESBURG – Former African champions Mamelodi Sundowns are staring at the embarrassing scenario of being knocked out of the Caf Champions League in the group stage.
The Brazilians languish at the bottom of Group C at the halfway mark with just two points from their opening three matches. On Tuesday, they were stunned by minnows AS Togo-Port in Lome at Stade Municipal.
Sundowns went into this match looking to collect maximum points from the Togolese side in their own backyard, and then in Tshwane later this month to muscle their way into the top two of Group C.
But their dismal run in the group stage of the continent’s premier knockout competition continued with this loss that leaves them needing a drastic turnaround in their remaining matches if they are to reach the knockout stage for a third successive year.
Chances of Sundowns reaching the quarter-finals are slim. The Brazilians looked disjointed in Lome.
They lacked penetration and more importantly a killer instinct in front of goal, which is why they find themselves in this bad position. What was meant to be an easy win turned into a frustrating encounter against newbies at this stage of the Champions League.
The Brazilians stamped their authority from the onset in search of their first win in the group stage.
The Togolese defence looked like they would have a mammoth task in denying Sundowns a victory, especially since they were without the suspended captain Issifou Bourahana and centreback Hakim Ouro-Sama, who signed for French giants Lille.
But it was the Brazilians’ defence that was punished first. Ayi Hunlede gave the hosts the lead after Abdoul Bode’s pass was deflected by Ricardo Nascimento on to the path of the burly centre-forward.
The 22-year-old made no mistake and his goal will go down in the club’s history, giving them their very first win in the group stage of the Champions League.
That goal came from the Togolese’s first proper chance and they punished the Brazilians who had most of the possession but didn’t do much with it.
Sundowns had some nice touches, but they lacked the right final touch to put Group C’s whipping boys to the sword. It didn’t help that they didn’t have a point of reference upfront.
Sundowns normally counter that by relying on the inspiration of Percy Tau and Khama Billiat upfront.
They’ll have to get that inspiration from somewhere going forward in this competition and the league, with Billiat having left the club and Tau on his way out.
Pitso Mosimane added that point of reference at the start of the second half, bringing in Thokozani Sekotlong for Hlompho Kekana.
The lad from Mamelodi should have scored seconds into his introduction but AS Togo-Port goalkeeper Klomegan Ayao produced a brilliant save from point-blank range.
Ayao played a starring role for the hosts with his unorthodox saves. His team won’t care how he made those saves, what they care about is that he made them and stopped Sundowns while helping them register their first win.
AS Togo-Port celebrated this victory as if it pushed them to No 1.
They certainly slept feeling like No. 1 in the continent thanks to them getting the better of the 2016 Champions League winners. Sundowns have to discover themselves quickly if they are ever to return to those heights soon.@NJABULON