ATTERIDGEVILLE – The bold decision to book accommodation in Algeria, get visas to fly straight there from Casablanca and this 1-0 win could see Mamelodi Sundowns continue their favourite past-time in the Caf Champions League…tormenting North African giants.
Masandawana didn’t exactly wipe the floor with 19-time Moroccan champions Wydad Casablanca on Sunday.
But this 1-0 victory showed the Brazilians’ character to fight until the end, sending a strong message of intent in their bid to retain the Champions League.
Without the injured Anthony Laffor to rise to the big occasion, Yannick Zakri came from the bench to play the most important cameo in his Sundowns career, giving the Tshwane side a cushion going into the second leg in Morocco on Saturday.
The football gods blessed this occasion with a drizzle just before kickoff, forcing some fans on the far stand to scatter into the main stand.
But an army of them stayed behind, singing their lungs out like they have been without the vuvuzela diluting their sound.
That impostor crept in, though, in a well-attended match after Sundowns decided to open the gates for the fans to enter for free.
The vuvuzela didn’t take as the singing, the drums and the band overpowered it in a picturesque setting befitting of African champions.
It took some effort to make those fans leave here happy. Wydad might not have parked the bus, but they strategically positioned it to frustrate Sundowns, who struggled to penetrate them.
Instead of the offensive 3-4-3 they played at home against FUS Rabat, Wydad played a 4-3-3, which turned to six at the back when they defended.
The Brazilians tended to play with blinkers, only seeing one side of their flanks – the one that was manned by Tebogo Langerman on the left, while ignoring Thapelo Morena, who had acres of space on the right flank.
The Moroccans had their eyes on Denis Onyango, ruffling his feathers and looking to get a response from the big man.
Onyango has grown in stature since his heroics in last year’s Champions League, along with helping Uganda qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in almost four decades.
Wydad saw his huge frame frustrate Egypt at the Afcon and World Cup qualifiers. The Ethiopian referee, Bamlak Tessema Weyesa, was quick to act to stop Wydad’s conduct.
Sundowns had most of the ball, but Wydad’s defending managed to reduce that possession to nothing for the better part of this match as the Brazilians hardly troubled goalkeeper Zouheir Laaroubi.
Just like Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane said, Wydad soaked in the pressure at first to read their opponents before playing a more open game in the second half.
The Moroccans wanted a draw, banking on their impressive home record, having won all their games at Stade Mohamed V in this competition and are yet to concede in front of their fans.
A draw would have made Sundowns’ trip to Casablanca more daunting without a goal.
Luckily for them, Zakri stepped and threaded the ball past Laaroubi. Wydad’s defence isn’t as watertight as they look on paper.
Sundowns exposed that, but struggled to punish the visitors. They will need to improve on that if they are to go to Algeria from Casablanca to take on USM Alger in the semi-finals.
The Algerians returned with a crucial away goal in the 1-1 draw with Ferroviario Beira in Mozambique on Saturday, and look set to settle the tie at home.