ATTERIDGEVILLE – Former African champions Mamelodi Sundowns and the reigning African kings Wydad Casablanca put on a closely contested and highly tactical 1-1 draw on Saturday night.
This was the opening round of a group they are expected to dominate, even though Horoya lead Group C at the moment.
The Guinea minnows Horoya returned from Togo with all three points earlier on Saturday, thanks to their 2-1 win over AS Togo-Port.
The point Mamelodi Sundowns collected at Lucas Moripe Stadium against the 2017 Caf Champions League winners Wydad Casablanca might seem like two points dropped, but it could be an important point in the greater scheme of things as the Moroccans are the Brazilians’ biggest threat in this group.
The only disappointment with this point is that it came at home for the 2016 Champions League winners.
The key in this tournament is winning your home games and grinding out a result on the road.
Sundowns did that well two years ago, but have failed to emulate that run this year and last.
Wydad subtly flexed their muscles to show why they are the African champions. The Moroccan side aren’t fancy, but effective.
They didn’t park the bus, but defended strategically, keeping their shape and drawing Sundowns into a false sense of dominance before hitting them quick and hard.
The Red Devils hypnotised the Brazilians, and once they were in a trance, they pounced. That’s how they levelled matters after Sundowns took an early lead.
Mohammed Ounajem whipped an inviting cross from a swift counter-attack that was finished by Ismail El Haddad.
Tebogo Langerman just stood and watched, expecting the referee to judge that the ball was out before the cross was played.
That goal restored parity after Sundowns took the lead in dramatic fashion.
Badr Gaddarine deflected Sibusiso Vilakazi’s cross into his own net. The referee awarded the goal, but his second assistant erroneously said it was a corner.
The two men had a long meeting, which finished with the goal standing.
That strike allowed Sundowns to play with more freedom against a team that eliminated them in the quarter-finals last year, before going all the way and winning it.
While revenge was on Sundowns’ minds, Wydad came here to show why they are the rightful kings of Africa.
The Moroccans look average on television, and it’s clear to see why any team that loses to them might feel that they could have beaten them.
But that average look is part of their arsenal, deceiving their opponents and then hitting them hard once they go into a lull.
Wydad are a deadly and smart team. You appreciate those qualities when you see them live, as you get to see the speed and numbers that they break with, stretching their opponents’ defence.
Even Thapelo Morena, probably the fastest Sundowns’ player on the pitch, struggled to deal with that speed at one point.
Motjeka Madisha and Ricardo Nascimento stood no chance in a race against the Wydad attack.
But the Brazilians held their own. It’s not just Sundowns’ players who are now used to the Champions League and the tricks their opponents play on them to mess them up mentally.
But even the club’s fans are now home in this tournament. A section of Sundowns’ fans used lasers to try and blind the Casablanca goalkeeper Yassine El Kharroubi.
This trick is normally used by teams from Arab countries in their own stadium.
Sundowns’ fans were giving the Moroccans a taste of their own medicine – albeit in small quantities, unlike what Denis Onyango will face in the return leg in Casablanca.
The few Wydad fans showed glimpses of what Sundowns will face in Morocco when they lit flares five minutes into the second half.
Sundowns troubled Wydad with their skills and quick interchange of passes.
But they didn’t do that often enough, which is why they didn’t get maximum points in their own backyard.