Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa enter matchday 3 of the CAF Champions League this week desperate to ditch the “Jekyll and Hyde” form that has marred their title defence. The Pretoria outfit host fellow Group D leaders Esperance of Tunisia, reigniting after 17 years a rivalry that saw each club win once and draw twice in successive group campaigns.
They meet having achieved 3-1 victories over V Club of the Democratic Republic of Congo and 0-0 draws against Saint George of Ethiopia in previous rounds. Lucky to make the expanded 16-club mini-league phase after edging Kampala Capital City Authority of Uganda 3-2 on aggregate, Sundowns’ group form has been odd.
Expected to begin with a home win over group debutants Saint George, they were held, leaving coach Pitso Mosimane fuming at the poor performance from the champions.
“I have seen better football from amateurs at public parks on Sunday mornings,” said the 52-year-old former South Africa striker and coach.
“We were woeful and my players had obviously forgotten that Mamelodi Sundowns are the defending African champions.
“Give me a month to brush off the cobwebs and get fit and I will play better than that,” he added.
Few South Africans gave Sundowns any hope of winning in the intimidating cauldron of DR Congo capital Kinshasa, where V Club boasted a 16-match unbeaten Champions League record.
But a Pretoria side hit by injuries that ruled out stars Hlompho Kekana and Khama Billiat dominated and could have won more convincingly than 3-1 with sharper finishing.
Mosimane painted a very different picture of his team: “What does the Kinshasa result tell you? That my boys are wise and clever.
“We need four points from our two matches against Esperance to create some breathing space at the top of the table.”
The Pretoria match is among four involving first and second seeds as the group phase of the elite African club competition reaches the halfway mark. Record eight-time champions Al Ahly of Egypt tackle Wydad Casablanca of Morocco for the second successive season after winning the national title an unrivalled 39th time this week.
Last year, Ahly drew with Wydad in Alexandria and surprisingly won 1-0 in Casablanca thanks to a goal from defender Ramy Rabia, a probable starter this weekend. Defensively formidable Zanaco of Zambia share top spot in Group D with Ahly and look good for three points when they entertain struggling Coton Sport of Cameroon in Lusaka.
Alexandria also hosts the Group B top-of-the-table clash between Zamalek of Egypt and USM Alger of Algeria, the last two Champions League runners-up.
Ageing Zamalek playmaker “Shikabala” remains among the best creators of chances in Africa while USM striker Oussama Darfalou impressed during an away defeat by CAPS United of Zimbabwe.
Group A pacesetters and former champions Etoile Sahel of Tunisia defend the only perfect record in the competition this year when they host twice runners-up Al Hilal of Sudan.
Brazilian Diogo Acosta and Algerian Hameur Bouazza of Etoile are among the leading Champions League scorers with four and three goals respectively.
Source: Confederation Africaine de Football