The Brazilians will be in Pot 1 of the draw, to be hosted in Johannesburg, along with defending champions Al Ahly, runners-up Wydad Athletic Club of Casablanca as well as their fellow semi-finalists Esperance de Tunis.
That though does not mean Rulani Mokwena and his team can take progression into the knockout phase as a given, for there are some strong teams in the rest of the other pots.
The 16 teams that have qualified for this money-spinning phase, which will see the teams earning a minimum of 700 000 US dollars, have been seeded based on their performances in the CAF competitions for the previous five seasons.
‘Best to avoid the trip up North’
Such is the nature of Champions League football that Sundowns will do well to avoid drawing teams from north Africa. Besides the fact that they are generally tough opposition on the pitch, playing in north Africa often brings with it a travelling logistical nightmare.
To avoid the north Africans will prove pretty difficult given that only Pot 3 does not have a team from that part of the continent, although some would argue that Sudan’s Al Hilal can be classified as being part of that region.
Pot 2 has two teams from the Arab world in Algeria’s CR Belouizdad and Pyramids of Egypt, while in Pot 4 Sundowns could draw Tunisian club Etoile du Sahel.
Such is the multiple South African champions’ pedigree in the competition though that they should not be too worried about who they draw, but an ‘easy’ group phase – particularly in terms of travelling logistics – will not do them any harm. After all, such is going to be Sundowns’ schedule in this campaign – they will be involved in three domestic as well as the new African Football League which the local PSL is against them competing in - that they will do with travelling as little as possible.
What’s a good draw anyway?
So what would be the best draw for the 2016 champions who have qualified for their ninth successive group stage participation?
In a Pot 2 made up of Belouizdad, Pyramids, Simba of Tanzania as well as Angola’s Pero de Luanda, it would be folly to view any of these sides as easy. The Brazilians would still have vivid memories of being knocked out by Petro in the 2022 quarterfinals and avoiding their nemesis would be a good thing. Simba are thus probably the best team to get from this pot, after all travel to Tanzania is a painless undertaking.
From Pot 3, another Tanzanian outfit Young Africans appear the best opponent to ask for, given that a trip to the resurgent TP Mazembe is one to avoid while going all the way to Abidjan would be a very difficult undertaking. Sundowns have, however, played against Sudanese side Al Hilal so many times that they are likely to feel rather ‘the devil we know’ than tackling new foes.
From Pot 4, though Etoile are the obvious team to avoid, Sundowns would also not want to make the trip to Guinea, Conakry for a clash with newcomers FC Nouadhibo. They should fancy their chances against Ghana’s Medeama. And so drawing Orlando Pirates’ conquerors Jwaneng Galaxy of Botswana will be the best given that travelling will not be an issue. And there is very little chance of the Brazilians slipping against Morena Moreboli’s team.
A good draw for me then would be for Sundowns to draw Simba, Al Hilal and Jwaneng Galaxy. A nightmare draw would see Sundowns in the same group as Pyramids, TP Mazembe and Etoile.
Such is Sundowns’ form of late that no matter the draw, they should progress from the group phase into the knockout stage where anything is possible.