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Testing time for Pitso and Sundowns

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The qualification route to the Champions League is sealed courtesy of a top two finish on the Absa Premiership log standings

Mamelodi Sundowns’ menacing act in the CAF Champions League this season has enabled them to dare to dream they can add another star above their crest in May, and that’s why chasing success in domestic cup competitions could prove to be a source of distraction at the moment.

On Saturday, the Brazilians recorded yet another milestone in the Pan-African competition, becoming the first South African league side to end the group stage unbeaten in all six matches, thanks to four wins and two draws.

While that rich vein of form saw them snatch four points from rivals Wydad Casablanca, it also increased the volume on the outside noise that the South Africans will be one of the teams to beat in the upcoming knockout stage of the competition.

Having been bundled out of the competition in the semi-finals last season by Casablanca, the tournament has proven that nothing can be taken for granted, and that’s why it’s important for teams to secure qualification for the next edition of the competition.

For PSL teams, the qualification route to the Champions League is sealed courtesy of a top two finish on the Absa Premiership log standings, something that hasn’t been an issue for Sundowns in the last five seasons.

The Brazilians, though, are yet to consolidate that position this term as they sit third on the log, 10 points behind leaders Kaizer Chiefs, who’ve played a game more. And what should be a worrying factor for Sundowns is that Chiefs have only dropped 10 points in their last 19 matches.

Sundowns are known to be experts in handling catch-up games, but there’s no guarantee that Pitso Mosimane’s men can repeat that feat this season, especially with teams such as Orlando Pirates closing in on a top two finish.

It’s therefore critical that Sundowns’ priority in the last four months is the domestic league and the Champions League, meaning that they’d have to give less attention to the Nedbank Cup, where victors get a spot in the CAF Confederation Cup.

But with the depth at Sundowns, Mosimane being a serial-winning coach and the Yellow Nation’s disgruntlement about the team’s unsatisfactory run in the domestic competition, do not expect the Chloorkop-based team to throw in the towel without a fight.

And what makes South Africa’s premier club knockout competition tricky is that no one wants to lose to a rival from the outset – especially with the Brazilians hosting neighbours SuperSport United at the Lucas Masterpieces Moripe Stadium on Saturday night (8.15pm kick-off) in Atteridgeville.

Sundowns will wear the favourites’ cap going into this encounter, considering how they’ve dominated the Tshwane derby in previous meetings, while they are also hoping to avenge their 3-1 aggregate defeat to SuperSport in the MTN8 competition this season.

However, with SuperSport’s chance of finishing in the top two on the log standings slim as they trail Chiefs, who have two games in hand, by 11 points, their shot in continental football next season could very well be in the Nedbank Cup.