Standing at almost 2m with four league titles, a CAF Champions League and CAF’s Footballer of the Year-based in Africa award, Denis Onyango stands tall literally and figuratively.
The Mamelodi Sundowns’ goalkeeper had a marathon spell without conceding a goal between Orlando Pirates’ Marc van Heerden’s stunning free-kick in November and Bloemfontein Celtic’s solitary goal courtesy of Ronald Pfumbidzai in the Brazilians’ 4-1 win on December 16.
Between those matches, Onyango went five games without conceding a goal. He has kept six clean sheets in 11 matches in total.
The Ugandan is the solid foundation around which Sundowns have built their strong finish to the first half of the season.
The Brazilians lead the standings by four points with a game in hand over second-placed Cape Town City.
Onyango’s brilliance came while Sundowns were rotating their central defence pairing between Wayne Arendse, Motjeka Madisha, Soumahoro Bangaly and even rightback Siyanda Zwane to ensure that they had fresh legs for the five matches they played in a space of two weeks. Onyango brought leadership and stability in a defence that lacked speed and has been exposed by speedy attackers.
“Denis is No 1 in Africa, we have to be honest,” Sundowns’ coach Pitso Mosimane said. “He has done well for us. For him to concede one goal in six games, he and the defence have done well. Look at the goal difference, we have the best (13). It’s big. There’s a huge gap between us and the team(s) with the second best goal difference (Kaizer Chiefs and Maritzburg United, whose goal difference is four). Denis has done well. The defence has done well. The attack has done well.”
The Brazilians return to training on Wednesday after a short break since their last match on December 20, a 1-0 loss to Cape Town City which saw them end 2017 with a defeat. The year had more disappointments than triumphs for the Brazilians. They started it on a high by beating TP Mazembe to lift the CAF Super Cup.
But they surrendered the PSL title to Wits and lost the Champions League to Wydad Casablanca before going on to look like early favourites for the 2017/18 premiership.
“Our 2017 is mixed,” Mosimane said. “It was a blessing in disguise to get knocked out of the Telkom Knockout, not to say that we didn’t want to win it.
"We wanted to win Telkom. But being out gave us that nice run where we concentrated on the league. You can’t go for everything because you end up with nothing.
"Games in hand are always trouble. You see SuperSport United, they are struggling to catch up with their games in hand. We have one game in hand which we need to win.”