Mamelodi Sundowns book yet another Champions League quarter-final spot

FILE - Mamelodi Sundowns head coach Rhulani Mokwena. Photo: Khaled Desouki/AFP

FILE - Mamelodi Sundowns head coach Rhulani Mokwena. Photo: Khaled Desouki/AFP

Published Feb 24, 2024


Another CAF Champions League campaign and yet another progression from the group phase for Mamelodi Sundowns.

What's new as the multiple South African champions continue to confirm their status as one of the continent's football giants? Nothing really, for Sundowns reaching the knockouts of Africa's premier club competition is now par for the course.

The question after the Brazilians booked their ticket into the quarter-finals via a 2-0 victory over Mauritania's Nouadhibou in Nouakchott is whether Rhulani Mokwena's men have what it takes to go all the way and win the club a second title to add to the one delivered to Chloorkop by Pitso Mosimane's Class of 2016.

On the strength of their securing a knockout phase spot with a match still to play in the round-robin phase, there is reason to believe they can.

Many though would rather wait to see how the men in yellow and royal blue fare in their final group match at home against a TP Mazembe side that beat them 1-0 in the first round. The DR Congo outfit were resounding 3-0 winners over Pyramids yesterday and top the group on the same number of points (10) as Sundowns but enjoy a head to head advantage.

The South Africans have to opportunity to usurp the five-time African champions and win the group via victory at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

To do that though, coach Mokwena will have to work hard at getting his team to being at their clinical best. For though they hardly raised a sweat in dispatching of the group's whipping boys, Sundowns should have won by a much wider margin had they taken their scoring boots with them.

That they won the match courtesy of a goal scored by the defender Grant Kekana following a dead-ball situation plus the last minute strike by Champions League debutant and substitute Thembinkosi Lorch tells the story of how the usually potent forwards were off colour on the Astroturf pitch of the sparsely populated Stade Cheikha Boidiy in the Mauritanian capital.

Kekana toe-poked the ball home as he connected a free kick from the left side of the field by Marcelo Allende after Gaston Sirino was clipped from behind.

Thereafter, Sundowns could have twice sent Nouadhibou goalkeeper Mamodou M’bodj scooping the ball from inside his net but the usually clinical Brazilians inexplicably fluffed their lines in the final third.

Just after the half hour mark, Teboho Mokoena scuffed the ball wide of goal from inside the six yard box following a good low cross from the skipper Themba Zwane.

Five minutes before half time they failed to capitalise on the equivalent of football hara-kiri by M’bodj who gifted the ball away just outside his box, with Mokoena’s attempt headed away. The loose ball fell for Peter Shalulile who somehow managed to get the ball entangled between his feet thus wasting a glorious chance.

Sundowns fashioned two good chances early on in the second half but M’bodj redeemed himself with fantastic saves to deny both Allende and Aubrey Modiba as the partisan home crowd did their best to chant their team back into the match.

Ten minutes from time substitute Lucas Ribeiro did find the net with a sweetly struck shot from just inside the box after the hosts dilly-dallied with the ball and lost possession. But incomprehensively, the assistant on the far side ruled that the Brazilian was offside – the shocked look on Ribeiro’s face telling the story of just how wrong the officials got the call.

Ribeiro got a chance on 84 minutes but his diagonal grass-cutting shot was splendidly saved by M’bodj who dived to his left to push the ball away from the advancing Lebo Maboe for a corner kick. There was nothing he could do though to stop Lorch announcing his arrival on the continental stage with a sweetly-struck goal after through ball from Mokoena as Sundowns reached the CAF Champions League quarterfinals for the sixth season in a row.


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