ATTERIDGEVILLE – A tie that should have easily been a hammering to send Wydad Casablanca fearing for their progress as they anticipate the quarter-final clash with the Brazilians ended in a stalemate.
And now the opposition will think of the defending champions as having a soft belly in their own backyard, Sundowns having gone through the group stages without winning at home following a 1-1 draw with AS Vita on Sunday night at Lucas Moripe Stadium.
Pitso Mosimane and his team had talked up the importance of winning this match, even though it was merely academic, as they’d already qualified for the knockout stage.
But they were keen to give themselves a chance to top the group and only victory, and defeat or a draw for Esperance against St George, would have done the trick.
Their play deserved success, but their failure to convert a myriad of chances that would have confirmed that their 3-1 first-leg defeat of Vita was no fluke proved their downfall.
And they were made to pay as Yazid Atouba Emane cancelled out Thabo Nthethe’s first-half goal.
It is a result that will give their next opponents huge confidence when they make the trip down here, Sundowns having drawn with St George and lost to Esperance in their other group matches.
When they watch the video of this match, the Moroccans would also realise just how rattled Sundowns became after conceding the goal, and will look to try and take the initiative.
It will be up to Mosimane to work at ensuring that his team kill off matches when the chance presents itself, his team having played positive attacking football that should have rendered the match over as a contest before Vita equalised.
There were no less than four brilliant opportunities in the first 10 minutes of the second half, but all of them came to naught and with a 1-0 lead always precarious, the hosts lived to regret missing them.
Yet even on the strength of their first-half showing, Mosimane will have something positive to work on as he anticipates the quarter-final.
Sundowns turned on the magic as Sibusiso Vilakazi took charge of the midfield and dictate the play, helping the Brazilians carve Vita open whenever they ventured forward.
The approach almost bore fruit immediately, Nthethe heading over a good cross from the left flank when sending it on target appeared much easier on 32 minutes.
The skipper was soon making amends by slotting home the opener three minutes later following a magnificent through-ball from Vilakazi.
The Vita defence had moved up attempting an offside trap but failed dismally, and took out their frustrations when conceding by protesting vehemently in vain.
The opener injected extra confidence into the home team, and they dished out a display that pleased the crowd no end.
Thapelo Morena, seemingly pressed on the touchline, used his ball skills to nutmeg Omba right on the touchline to initiate a threatening move that should have yielded a goal.
And then with the halftime whistle looming, Sundowns played interchanges deep inside the Vita side of the field before retreating to their own with neat touches until the ball was back with the goalkeeper.
It was a move that would no doubt have reminded the older fans in the crowd of the good old days of the “Shoe Shine and Piano” Sundowns of Screamer Tshabalala.
But that team turned their dominance into goals, something this class will have to do against Wydad or run the risk of kissing their title goodbye.