PRETORIA – Mamelodi Sundowns may have walked away with the spoils at the end of last season, but losing to Kaizer Chiefs at home on their way to a record eighth domestic title still remains a sore point.
As obvious as it was towards the midway point of last season’s Absa Premiership that Sundowns were well on their way to securing the title, Chiefs’ shock 2-1 win at Loftus Versfeld served as a slight reprieve for their embattled former coach Steve Khompela, but was a mere stumbling block for the eventual champions.
The loss was a minor trip-up to Sundowns’ title ambitions, but it was also a painful low point that stuck in the minds of the Sundowns faithful and players.
Having already beaten the side from Naturena in the pre-season Shell Helix Cup a fortnight ago, Sundowns will be looking at settling a score from last season while getting their title defence off to a flying start when they face Chiefs at the very same Loftus today, according to Sundowns’ shot-stopper Denis Onyango.
“That’s why we want to start off on a high note. We lost to them at home when we thought we could have won the game,” he said.
“So we need to fight harder this time around and get the result. I don’t think they will let it go easily and they won’t allow us to play and get the game flowing.
“They are going to fight for their lives. We know what’s coming and we need to fight back.”
And as much as Onyango and his star-studded teammates will be desperate to walk away with the three points, they will also carry with them the desire to inflict some pain on the egos of former teammates Khama Billiat and Leonardo Castro, who turned their backs on the Brazilians in search of glamour at Chiefs.
While Castro played the second half of last season in the colours of the Glamour Boys, Billiat will for the first time get a bitter taste of the venom he once dished out when he still wore the jersey of the Brazilians.
Even though Billiat featured for his new club in the pre-season friendly, it was not with the same intensity and ferocity that Sundowns will look to play with in a competitive league encounter.
The 33-year-old Onyango will obviously be in the firing line from Billiat and Castro, but the Ugandan international is not fazed at the prospect of facing his former teammates and believes they have the blueprint to keep them out of the game.
“It is not difficult because we know what they do, their abilities, weak and strong points, but we are looking at the entire team.
“If they don’t get the supply, we are okay, but if allow them to get the supply from midfielders, goalkeeper or the wingers, they will be very dangerous. For us, it is about looking at the entire team rather than the individuals,” Onyango added.
Sundowns, of course, will have their own sharp-shooters upfront in fleet-footed Uruguayan Gaston Sirino and Sibusiso Vilakazi, who recently showed how lethal a combination they are at the heart of the Downs' attack.
Onyango admits that it was always going to be unsettling losing Billiat and Percy Tau at the same time, but believes the duo’s departure has now made way for an equally lethal strike force in Sirino and Vilakazi.
“It is nice when you have players who step up and take the team to the next level. Yes, we lost Khama and Percy, two of our best strikers, at the same time.
“But Gaston came to the party and we hope it works out well for him, while Vila is also getting there. The few new guys who are coming in as well must lift the team to where we want to be.
“It is always a challenge to lose two strikers at the same time, but we’ve got the quality and the guys must put up their hands and get the results,” he insisted.
For Onyango and Sundowns, retaining the league remains paramount, and doing so on the back of getting one over Chiefs in the opening game of the season will make the ultimate victory that much more sweeter.@Vata_Ngobeni