Mamelodi Sundowns will represent Africa at the FIFA Club World Cup at the end of the year in Japan after winning the 52nd edition of the CAF Champions League. Masandawana, or the 'Brazilians', as Sundowns are called by their fans, did most of the hard work in the first leg of the final, beating five-time champions Zamalek 3-0 at home. Although the White Knights managed to turn things around in the Borg El Arabi Stadium in Alexandria and win 1-0 through Stanley Ohawuchi’s second-half goal, it was a case of too little, too late.
The champions Sundowns suffered a scare in the preliminary round when they were beaten 1-0 by Zimbabwean club Chicken Inn. They turned things around at home and won 2-0 to advance to the first round where they overcame AC Leopards. In the play-off stages they were eliminated from the competition by Vita Club, and yet they were reinstated after it was ruled that the club from Congo DR had used an ineligible player in a previous round.
With another lease on life and a spot in the group stage, Sundowns achieved a remarkable two victories in North Africa, where pickings for visiting teams are generally slim. Beating ES Setif (who were disqualified after the game) and Zamalek saw the team through to the semi-finals with a matchday to spare. In the round of the last four they faced southern African rivals Zesco United and managed to overturn a 2-1 first-leg defeat at home.
Former Bafana Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane managed to build a team without any traditional goalscorer, resulting in a situation where 11 players shared their 19 goals – with two coming from own goals. Surprisingly, none of the Sundowns players managed to score more than two.
Sundowns success is only the second time that a South African country has won the showpiece event of African club football. The country’s only other victory came in 1995, when Orlando Pirates beat ASEC Mimosas 1-0 in Abidjan after being held to a 2-2 draw at home.
Key points Enyimba’s Mfon Udoh was the competition's top scorer with nine goals – seven of which he scored before the group stage, including a stunning hat-trick in a 3-0 win against 2007 winners Etoile du Sahel. As his goals dried up, so too did Enyimba’s progress and by the time he finally found the back of the net in the eight-term group stage, the People’s Elephant had already been eliminated. Behind the Nigerian hitman, Wydad Casablanca’s Reda Hajhouj and Idriss Mbombo, who plays for Zesco United followed with six and five goals respectively.
Holders TB Mazembe failed to make it through to the group phase after being beaten 2-0 in Morocco by Wydad Casablanca. A surprisingly sluggish 1-1 draw at home was not enough to see Les Corbeaux go through, ending their dream of a sixth title. The record holders Al Ahly managed to get through to the group phase – having failed to do so in the last two years, but they stumbled badly, picking up just one point from their opening three matches – including two at home.
There was disappointment for Sudanese clubs as both Al Merreikh and Al Hilal failed to advance to the last eight after making the semi-finals in 2015. Both fell on the wrong side of the away goals tie-breaker, Al Hilal knocked out by Libyan club Al Ahly, while Al Merreikh were eliminated by ES Setif.
The stat** 7 – **The number of games that Sundowns won at home in the event. Their 100-per cent record saw them score 14 goals and concede just two as their defence proved virtually impenetrable in front of their own fans.
Did you know? Sundowns are the only club to date that won the Champions League after having been knocked out of the competition in the same year. The South African club lost in the play-off rounds against Congolese club Vita Club and had to compete in the CAF Confederation Cup, where they lost again in the play-off stage – beaten by Medeama from Ghana. They were reinstated into the Champions League after it was ruled that Vita Club had used an ineligible player in one of their previous rounds and were disqualified. Sundowns were allowed to take their place in the group stages, and they made the most of their second chance.
What they said “The best team won the Champions League, but we were better in the second leg. We needed but didn't get an early goal to comeback and gain confidence,” Zamalek coach Moamen **Soliman**, speaking after the final.
"It wasn't easy at all. There were difficulties, but now we will be facing the best teams in the world at the Club World Cup," Sundowns' South African Player of the Year Khama Billiat.