Home Sport Can Zwane weave his magic to revive Sundowns campaign?

Can Zwane weave his magic to revive Sundowns campaign?

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Held goalless in the first leg in Dar es Salaam last weekend, the South African champions are under pressure to not concede a goal, lest they suffer a similar blow to last season, when they were knocked out on away goals.

Themba Zwane (right) of Mamelodi Sundowns is back in the team for Friday’s second leg of their CAF Champions League quarter-final at Loftus Versfeld. File Picture: Ryan Wilkisky, BackpagePix

Matshelane Mamabolo

MAMELODI Sundowns need to beat Tanzania’s Young Africans in the second leg of their CAF Champions League quarter-final at Loftus Versfeld on Friday (8pm kick-off) to make it to the semi-final and keep alive their hopes of winning the continent’s premier club knockout competition for the second time.

Held goalless in the first leg in Dar es Salaam last weekend, the South African champions are under pressure to not concede a goal, lest they suffer a similar blow to last season, when they were knocked out on away goals.

We look at four factors that could influence the match …

Themba Zwane is back

As much as football is a team sport, there are some individuals who always rise above the others to make themselves the talismanic figures who make their sides tick. In a star-studded Sundowns outfit teeming with talent, that player is Themba Zwane.

“Mshishi” has been the country’s top player for many seasons now, and while it seems age is catching up with him, the 34-year-old’s importance to Sundowns cannot be overestimated.

You saw last weekend just how vital he is – Sundowns somehow resembling a bird without a song as they lacked that incisiveness, that ability to open up the opposition, with Zwane absent due to suspension.

He is back for Friday’s match, and you can bet he will once again play that role of conductor and soloist of the Sundowns symphony.

Fortress Loftus

Coach Rulani Mokwena has called on Masandawana to come in their numbers and fill up fortress Loftus in order to help lift their team, while intimidating Yanga.

The Tanzanians had a capacity 60,000-strong home crowd last weekend, and though they did not score, their partisan supporters seemed to provide some kind of ‘wind beneath their wings’.

Sundowns fans are renowned for their ability to lift the team with songs and beating drums, and if ever the South African champions needed to allow anyone dressed in their colours into the stadium for free, it’s on Friday.

Quarter-final bogey

Since winning the competition back in 2016, Sundowns have found it very hard to progress past the last-eight phase. In seven editions, they have been knocked out in the quarter-finals on five occasions – making it to the semi-final only once, and failing to get out of the group stage the other time.

The fact that they are not playing either Al Ahly or Wydad Casablanca – who each knocked them out twice – should be of some consolation to Sundowns.

They would, however, do well to remember that they lost 3-2 on aggregate to a Petro de Luanda side everyone expected them to beat back in 2022.

Just as back then, Sundowns are favourites to beat Yanga – but the first-leg score showed that nothing can be taken for granted.

Home wins rare in last eight

One of the main reasons Sundowns have struggled to progress past the quarter-finals has been their failure to win their home matches.

On the six occasions they have hosted quarter-finals, they have won just twice – they beat Wydad 1-0 in 2017, although they went on to be knocked out via a penalty shoot-out, and then smashed Al Ahly 5-0 in 2019 en route to the semi-finals. Thereafter, it was stalemates all the way – and all of them with goals – as Sundowns found it impossible to overcome what is clearly a bogey round for them.

Such a result is out of the question on Friday night if Mokwena is to make himself a Sundowns and South African coaching legend so early in his career.

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