South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns advanced their African dream when they forced a 1 – 0 victory over Zamalek at a chilly Lucas Moripe Stadium on Wednesday night.
It was a night of hard toiling as the Egyptian side sat back throughout as if they had decided to settle for a draw, ending up the first half without a single shot at goal – on or off target.
The victory means that Sundowns’ remaining fixture against Enyimba in Nigeria is effectively a dead rubber for the Tshwane side, who have a 100% record points haul of nine points, but critical for the Nigerians who will need to beat Zamalek away and Sundowns at home to get the second spot on the log to join Sundowns in the semi-final pot.
Coach Pitso Mosimane praised his boys’ effort, but declared that they would be professional and field the best possible team against Enyimba, but saw the game, and their Hage Geingob title defence in Namibbia, as an opportunity for players who had not had a chance in the current run-up.
The early stages of the game were cautious from both sides, as Sundowns passed the ball around to draw the Egyptians into attack, but the side from the Land of the Pharaos sat back and refused to fall into the trap, having been caught on the counter in the first leg.
In the eighth minute, Tebogo Langerman put through Castro, who could not put the ball away.
Other than the one chance they had was a cut in from the left flank, and a cross into the box which Denis Onyango cut off with a dive. Sundowns, on the other hand, had several scoring opportunities, with the most notable a shot over the cross bar by Leonardo Castro.
Hlompho Kekana initiated a typical cross field move, getting the ball to an on-rushing Khama Billiat. The Zimbabwean cut the ball back to Keagan Dolly, who played it back to an overlapping Tebogo Langerman. The left back slipped past two defenders and played it through, but Billiat had delayed coming back and was off-side and let the ball roll out.
Another chance came Billiat’s way when he had a one-on-one opportunity which was thwarted by the Zamalek goalkeeper.
As the game went towards the half-way mark, Zamalek were content to let Sundowns play the ball back in their own half, and it came as no surprise when the score was goalless at the interval.
In the second half, Sundowns continued their dominance. Kekana’s shot from range was tipped over, and efforts by Dolly and Castro were thwarted
Soumahoro Bangaly, who came on for suspended Arendse, kept the central defence solid in his partnership with Thabo Nthete.
Coach Mosimane brought on Percy Tau in the 65th minute, and had hardly warmed up to the occasion before he made a run down the left flank, and his cross with Billiat as his target was intercepted by Zamalek defender Ali Gabr who poked the ball into his own net, beating his goal-keeper – more the result of pressure than anything else .
Castro had another opportunity as he benefited from a parried ball from a Billiat shot. The Columbian headed over the bar.
Sundowns were confident on the ball, and knocked it about as they tried to make their way into the box. As the clock ticked away, Anthony Laffor began a warm-up, but the game ended even before he could get on.