Mamelodi Sundowns and Zesco United meet today in the first leg of their Caf Champions League semifinal – a game that is a boon for soccer in the Southern African region before it has even kicked off.
This is the first time since 2001 that two teams from this region have played each other in the last four of the continent’s premier club competition, which has been dominated over the years by sides from north, west and central Africa.
Sundowns were one of the teams in the semis back in 2001, beating Angola’s Petro Atletico, only to be humbled by Egypt’s Al-Ahly in the final.
Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane has made no secret of his desire to get a “star” on Sundowns’ jersey as continental champions and the Brazilians are certainly making the most of their freakish second chance in this year’s competition.
Being reinstated in the group stages after an opponent is disqualified for fielding an ineligible player – and not even for fielding that player against your side – is probably the definition of backdoor qualification.
But Sundowns have shown themselves worthy of a place among the continent’s elite eight sides, winning their group with a game to spare ahead of African giants Zamalek and Enyimba to set up the meeting with Zesco.
It will be a tricky game against the back-to-back Zambian champions, who also exceeded expectations to finish as runners up in their group, ahead of Al-Ahly and ASEC Mimosa. Sundowns will certainly need to be at their sharpest in front of a hostile home crowd in Ndola today.
If Sundowns can pick up a respectable result, then they will certainly be favourites heading back to Tshwane in a couple of weeks’ time.
There is even a feeling, given the way Sundowns got back into this competition, that the fates already have the Brazilians’ name on a trophy they desperately want to win.