Downs march on for CAF glory meeting the height of expectations

RONWEN Williams of Mamelodi Sundowns celebrates victory with teammates during the CAF Champions League. | BackpagePix

RONWEN Williams of Mamelodi Sundowns celebrates victory with teammates during the CAF Champions League. | BackpagePix

Published Apr 7, 2024


SUCH is the height of expectations placed on Mamelodi Sundowns that even after they’d succeeded in reaching the semi-final of the CAF Champions League for the second year running, questions about their performance still abounded.

The Brazilians beat Tanzania’s Young Africans 3-2 via penalties at Loftus Versfeld Stadium following a goalless stalemate over two legs. That failure to find the Yanga net was a blot on an otherwise spotless white cloth that everyone seemed to focus on.

After all, a team as highly experienced in Champions League football as Sundowns should have made quick work of the quarter-final debutants – right?

Football is fickle at the top though, and historical performances and pedigree often count for nothing at the business end of the continent’s premier club knockout competition. And having failed to impose their celebrated style of play, marked by patient build-ups from the back and confident slick passing, both in Dar Es Salaam and in Pretoria, the African Football league (AFL) champions had to rely on Ronwen Williams’ brilliance at stopping spot kicks to progress.

Shoot-outs though are a part of the game, and as unimpressive as Sundowns’ march to the penultimate stage of the tournament was, the fact is they are in the semi-final once again. Coach Rulani Mokwena was at pains to make blood-thirsty newshounds aware of this deep in the bowels of Loftus during the post-match media conference.

“Of course we need to improve everywhere (going into the semi-final),” he agreed. “But today I am not getting technical. I just want to enjoy the moment of being in the semi-final. Sundowns are in the CAF Champions League semi-final guys – the semi-final. And that’s all that matters.”

In a way he was right. For as much as their performance left a lot to be desired – they were disappointing in the final third as they had no more than two shots on target, none of which troubled the Yanga goalkeeper – the result will show that they were victors. The pedantic football fan will argue that the official result of the match is a draw. Fair enough. But it was a knockout and Sundowns scored more in the shoot-out than Yanga.

Perhaps what should concern Mokwena is that his team found it hard against a team not regarded as one of the continent’s top sides. As it was, Sundowns were fortunate not to have conceded at home with Yanga’s Aziz Ki seeing his shot from close range beating Williams and then ricochetting off the underside of the crossbar and going back into play.

Yanga coach Miguel Gamondi was adamant the attempt should have been given as a goal and cried ‘robbery’ afterwards – the Argentinian who formerly coached Sundowns saying “the people who were in the VAR destroyed the pride of Tanzania. Can anyone argue with me that we were not robbed? It was a clear clear goal – yes or no?”

The VAR angles showing the shot were not conclusive but it appeared that the decision to disallow the goal was given because the whole circumference of the ball did not cross the line.

Not that Mokwena was concerning himself too much about that. His worry though should be in the fact that his team’s defence was breached with consummate ease for that scoring opportunity. He would have to work hard at fixing that as he prepares them for yet another shot at reaching the final following their 2016 triumph.

And the fact that they have now avoided what had appeared a quarter-final jinx in two consecutive seasons must have everyone associated with Sundowns in celebratory mood – the manner of breaking the bogey notwithstanding.

Mokwena was definitely celebrating: “It’s the second successive time we reach the semis guys which is very important,” he said.