PRETORIA - For a second successive year, Sundowns - the 2016 champions of Africa - were knocked out of the CAF Champions League, held in their own backyard by lowly Horoya AC from Guinea.
This time the Brazilians didn’t even make it past the group stage having endured a horror campaign from the beginning when they kicked off their journey in Group C with a 1-1 draw against holders Wydad Casablanca at this venue.
The tension was almost palpable before kick off here, the Sundowns supporters knowing it was win or bust. But the visitors were in fact the ones who showed urgency in the opening minutes, while Sundowns tried to read their game plan.
For Horoya, a point would have been enough, but it wasn’t until the hosts were piling on the pressure late in the second half that the Guinea outfit retreated - parking a bus and relying on goalkeeper Germain Berthe to keep them in the game.
Sundowns had their chances. And when the most clear cut of those opportunities, Gaston Sirino putting Sibusiso Vilakazi clean through on goal, did not go in there was a sense that it probably wasn’t their night.
All the big guns were brought back after they were rested at the weekend in the 1-0 defeat to the Cape Town City in the MTN8 first leg semifinal. But even with fresh legs, key players such as Sirino, captain Hlompho Kekana and striker Jeremy Brockie just weren’t at the races.
Brockie, in particular, will be held responsible for Sundowns firing blanks here. He hardly made use of any of the chances created and looks like he is still trying to adjust to life at Chloorkop despite arriving as far back as January. It might have been a mistake on Pitso Mosimane’s part to rely on him for goals on a night like this. But his replacement Anthony Laffor didn’t make an impact either.
Sundowns' first substitution was a defender in Motjeka Madisha due to an apparent injury to rightback Anele Ngcongca. The other two were Laffor and Lebogang Maboe - the two forwards who should have perhaps started the game given what was at stake.
Horoya held on to an unexpected draw and qualify for the last eight for the first time in the club’s history, alongside Wydad, who topped the group and had beaten Sundowns in Casablanca almost two weeks ago.
The Brazilians will have another go at this tournament later this year when the next edition, squeezed into a few months from December to May, begins. They qualified after winning the South African title three months ago.
But their home and away record will have to improve if they are to repeat the 2016 achievement. Sundowns fans backed their coach by chanting his name at the end of this defeat, but he'll know this was a huge shock and disappointment.