Cape Town - Karim Benzema, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Paul Pogba and Reyaad Pieterse.
Pieterse? What does the Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper have in common with some of the biggest names in football?
Well, they are all Muslim, and are currently observing the holy month of Ramadan where food and drink is prohibited from an hour before sunrise until sunset.
What? No food and drink for an entire day? Not even water?
Yes, not even water.
So, how does a professional footballer maintain peak performance, not only during the intensity of matches, but also in regards to speed, endurance, and agility at training without any form of sustenance during the daylight hours?
“Obviously it gets a bit challenging, but the Almighty carries you through,” Pieterse told the IOL Sport Show. “I can only talk from my personal experience, but the Almighty carries me through the difficult and challenging times.
“It does get tough, especially in terms of the conditions - like we’re travelling to Angola now - but for me this month is the best time. I feel like I’m on another level spiritually. I'm connected, you know, I'm in tune with what I need to do and I feel like I am at peace. I actually really look forward to Ramadan because it helps me get to where I want to be spiritually.”
Even a great like Benzema seems to have found his inner peace during Ramadan. For so long the troubled son of French football, the 34-year-old is currently at the pinnacle of his powers, and none more so than over the past fortnight, where despite fasting for 13 hours daily he’s delivered a hat-trick at Stamford Bridge and and an extra-time winner at the Santiago Bernabeu for Real Madrid to send defending champions Chelsea crashing out of the Uefa Champions League.
Pieterse is equally enjoying a similar turn of good fortune. After spending months out-of-favour at Chloorkop where veterans Denis Onyango and Kennedy Mweene were entrusted with the responsibility of guarding the goal of the South African champions, the Ennerdale-born-and-raised stopper has recently been elevated to Sundowns’ No 1.
Sundowns co-coaches Manqoba Mngqithi and Rulani Mokwena rarely make any decision without having done their due diligence, especially considering that it has come at a critical point of the season with the Masandawana still in the hunt for a record-breaking quadruple of trophies.
“To be honest … For me it's not about number one or number two … In the beginning, when I was out of the side completely, I just thought to myself I just need to work hard. You know, because Dennis and Kennedy, having the experience that they have, and us as the younger ones, learning from the likes of Dennis and Kennedy's is a dream come true,” Pieterse said.
“At Sundowns it's so difficult because in each position you've got about three or four international players in each position. You can't afford to be taking your foot off the pedal, which makes it very difficult. Basically, you can't have an off day. And whoever gets given the opportunity grabs with both hands because you know that if you don't, there's two or three other guys that want the same position as you. It's healthy competition.
“It's obviously been working for us and it's very good for the team. About the number one jersey … no position is guaranteed. So, personally whenever I get given the opportunity I just want to grab it with both hands and do the best that I can do to help my teammates.”
At 30 years old Pieterse is no novice though. The 1.92m tall shot-stopper has 10 years experience in the top-flight with glamour clubs Kaizer Chiefs and SuperSport United, and of course being a Nike Academy Graduate, has played for Shamrock Rovers in Ireland previously. He is also a nine-capped Bafana Bafana international.
It’s no wonder Mngqithi and Mokwena were comfortable fielding Pieterse in the two CAF Champions League group matches against Sudanese outfits Al-Hilal Omdurman (away) and Al Merreikh Omdurman (home).
Pieterse admits though that CAF Champions League remains the ultimate test for any local player, particularly due to the hostile atmosphere created by the passionate opposition fans in and around the stadium.
“It’s very intimidating, especially playing in north Africa. In fact, it’s a little bit daunting, especially if it's the first time you go there. It's not easy going to north Africa because they come out in numbers. The stadiums are always packed before the game even starts,” he said.
“Even if you go into west Africa, when you come there, you feel the hostility on the bus. It's like a movie … serious … like a movie scene.”
After years of not embracing the prestige attached to continental football, the shift in focus by South African teams is primarily due to the emergence of the Sundowns empire.
Fuelled by the ambition and wealth of billionaire owner Patrice Motsepe and expertise of former coach Pitso Mosimane, Sundowns have transformed the entire football landscape and were rewarded with the coveted “star” in 2016 - matching the Orlando Pirates’ pioneers of 1995.
It has since been elevated to the next level with Sundowns recently becoming the first team to preserve a 100% record in the CAF Champions League group stages - beating Egyptian superpower and defending champions Al Ahly, coached by Mosimane now, twice in the process - which has installed them as outright favourites ahead of their first-leg quarter final against Angolan champions’ Petro de Luanda FC at the Estádio 11 de Novembro in Talatona tonight (Kickoff 6pm).
“I think the results Sundowns have got over the last five years has earned the club respect. This has also been a good season for us and I think it’s the first time in history that Al Ahly have been beaten at home and that's a big bonus for us, but obviously the job's not finished.
“I believe with this team if we keep our feet firmly on the ground, we can achieve a lot of things, especially with the technical team that we've got as well with the players
“We’re potentially one of the favourites for cleaning up, but like I said, we don't want to get carried away. We know that we've got a big mountain to climb. There's a lot of errors that we need to rectify. And I feel like once we get that going, we will be very difficult to stop.”