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Beware the Brazilians’ bite

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“Sundowns, maybe, they want to prove a point. It’s never like this in the PSL. They know us and they come with re-enforced defence."

HOLDING THEIR OWN: Thapelo Morena of Mamelodi Sundowns tackles Ali Maaloul of Al-Ahly during their 2018/19 CAF Champions League football match at Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandia on Saturday. Sundowns lost the match 1-0, but proceeded to the semis with a 5-1 aggregate. Picture: Gavin Barker BackpagePix

FOR A CLUB that is within touching distance of a second CAF Champions League title, Mamelodi Sundowns have been pretty tame on the local front.

Granted, the Brazilians are still in the running to hold on to their Absa Premiership title, sitting as they are in second position on the 16-team league table.

But even the meticulous planner that is coach Pitso Mosimane can’t comprehend why his team are lions on the continent and pit bulls, at best, in the domestic league.

Both those animals, the lion and a pit bull, are ferocious with a powerful bite – but the lion is the king of the jungle and a pit bull is a domestic animal. The king of the jungle in Sundowns ravaged Al-Ahly 5-1 on aggregate to set up a date with Wydad Casablanca in a match that’s shaping up to becoming one of the most exciting in CAF Champions League football.

The Moroccan side will host the first leg of the semi-final on the last weekend of April with the return leg at Lucas Moripe Stadium on the first weekend of May.

Tunisia’s Esperance will take on TP Mazembe of the DRC in the other semi-final.

“I don’t know, I also don’t understand,” Mosimane said in response to why Sundowns are a different animal all together in the Champions League.

“Sundowns, maybe, they want to prove a point. It’s never like this in the PSL. They know us and they come with re-enforced defence. For me, I think they (Al-Ahly) disrespected us. They probably just said, ‘We are a big team. What team is that? What have they won?’

“And I think our performance in the first leg was a surprise to them. It was a big surprise. They are a big team. They never fear anything.”

A strong message

Sundowns’ 5-0 thumping of Al-Ahly sent a strong message to the continent about their exploits and intentions to win a second Champions League title.

The upcoming two-legged semi-final will be entertaining and gruelling with the remaining teams having won the last four editions. TP Mazembe conquered the continent in 2015, while Sundowns did it in 2016, followed by Wydad in 2017 and Esperance who are the reigning African champions.

But before Sundowns entertain the idea of a second star, they have to return to the bread and butter that is the Absa Premiership.

The Brazilians find themselves six points behind leaders Orlando Pirates. But Sundowns have three games in hand. The first of those games in hand is a Tshwane derby against SuperSport United on Wednesday at Loftus Versfeld.

Three days later Sundowns will visit Baroka FC at the Old Peter Mokaba Stadium. And should the Brazilians claim maximum points in both those matches, they will sit level with Pirates on 50 points with a game to spare.

Even though the Brazilians have kept up with the leading pack, and even for a time sat at the summit of the league at one point, they are still a team under construction with Mosimane still trying to find combinations.

Despite that, they have kept up the chase as they look to secure a Champions League place for a sixth year in a row and possibly retain the Absa Premiership they won last season.

“Sundowns are driving each other,” Bafana Bafana coach, Stuart Baxter said. “Pitso has put together a good squad, they have the right structure and they are driving each other. You only see the quality of Sundowns when they are playing against an Al-Ahly, because when they are playing against a normal PSL team it’s obviously hard for them to drive each other.

“That’s why he swops the team around and he tries to get someone who has a point to prove. Sometimes we can get it wrong as coaches and it looks flat.”