Thousands of vaccinated fans were able to witness Mamelodi Sundowns crush Al Merrikh of Sudan in a CAF Champions League clash at the FNB Stadium on Saturday.
Cape Town — Fans were back with a vengeance at the FNB stadium where hosts Mamelodi Sundowns ran out 3-0 victors against Al Merrikh of Sudan in a CAF Champions League encounter on Saturday afternoon.
For the first time in CAF Champions League history, the unbeaten Sundowns managed 16 points in the pool phase, something that has never been achieved before. The glorious six-match unbeaten streak includes memorable back-to-back wins over title-holders Al Ahly.
Even before kick-off, several thousand Yellow Nation fans burst into song to celebrate their return to stadiums after two years.
To further enhance the occasion, Sundowns decided to reward their fans with free tickets on condition they comply with health regulations that require proof of vaccination.
Sundowns would have been fired up by the sound ringing out from the national stadium. Their opening sorties proved penetrative as they took play up to the opposition goalmouth almost straight from the kick-off, while the visiting Al Merrikh was slow out of the blocks.
Since Sundowns had already having qualified for the quarter-finals, they fielded second choices. The sun was not shining because of the overcast skies but several Sundowns players did despite coming back from a period of inactivity because of the FIFA international break.
The Brazilians finished their #TotalEnergiesCAFCL group stage campaign in style as they secured a win at the FNB Stadium in front of the Yellow Nation! 👆
— Mamelodi Sundowns FC (@Masandawana) April 2, 2022
But they served notice that the visitors were in a for a long afternoon. After a whopping 62% first-half possession, Sundowns only managed a 1-0 lead although that halftime score flattered the Sudan visitors.
Sundowns rightwing Amethyst Ralani rattled to woodwork in the 11th minute after the visitors’ goalmouth was under siege. The pressure did take its toll three minutes later when Lesedi Kapinga’s corner was steered into the opposition’s goals by a deft header from George Maluleka. It was Maluleka’s first Champions League goal.
Most of the first-half play was in the Al Merrikh half but Sundowns failed to add further score by the time referee Ahmad Heeralall of Mauritius blew for halftime.
It was much the same situation when second-half play resumed except that Sundowns were a tad more prolific in the striking zone. Haashim Domingo, who should have scored in the first half had another chance in early second-half play but again he was wasteful.
He did, however, open the way for the opening second-half goal when he supplied a lengthy cross-field feed to Ralani who shook off two defenders before chipping the ball wide of the opposition keeper Mohamed Mustafa who was also the captain.
That 66th-minute strike put the game beyond the visitors, and substitute Kermit Erasmus had the final say six minutes with a superb strike from the edge of the penalty area for his first goal of the season.
The final Group A will be played on Sunday when defending champions Al Ahly host Sudan’s Al-Hilal Omdurman in Cairo.
Sundowns, with 16 points, are in an unassailable position.
The CAF quarter-finals draw will be done in Cairo on Tuesday.