Premier Soccer League champions Mamelodi Sundowns became the first Southern Africa team after Orlando Pirates to advance to the semifinals of the Confederation of African Football (Caf) Champions League last night, after narrowly defeating Egyptian giants Zamalek for the second time in as many weeks.
Sundowns went into the encounter without two of their key players in Tiyani Mabunda and Wayne Arendse, who were both out on suspension, but their replacements Teko Modise and Soumahoro Bangaly held the fort and kept the momentum going to make sure that the duo were not missed much. Brazilian-born defender Ricardo dos Santos Nascimento, who did not train with the team on monday after he was said to have been busy with his paper work, did not make the teamsheet.
After a fairly dull first half, Sundowns came to life in the second interval when coach Pitso Mosimane switched tactics, doing away with the long passes from the deep in their half, which proved to be fruitless in the first half, and approached the remainder of the game with combination play.
Going into the last match away to Nigerian heavyweights Enyimba on August 28, Sundowns command Group B with nine points, being the only team to not have dropped any points in both groups. Mosimane has indicated the importance of finishing top.
“Most important we want to win and be number one, because when you are number one in the semi-finals, you play the first game away, and the second game at home.”
Sundowns reached their second Caf semifinal in their history, which will be played in September, while five-time holders Zamalek are expected to join Sundowns in the semifinals. As it stands, the Egyptians remain on three points. Both Downs and Zamalek are still to play rock-bottom Nigerian side Enyimba, who are hanging on a thread with no points.