Moment Of Truth For Downs30/Jun/2017 13:03
It’s the moment of truth for African Champions Mamelodi Sundowns. When they trot onto the field on Saturday to take on Ethiopian champions St George in their penultimate group stage Confederation of African Football Champions League clash, it will be do or die.
The Tshwane Giants face a side that frustratingly held them scoreless in the reverse fixture in Atteridgeville, and now they face the daunting task of beating them at their 35 000 seater home ground which will no doubt be packed if their support in the away game is anything to go by.
Sundowns must win against St George, and then take the three points against AS Vita at home to advance to the next round. They cannot afford a loss.
Pitso Mosimane’s side has been limping through the campaign with injuries to some of their key players. While the front men miss Khama Billiat, it is the more critical defence line that has been giving the technical team headaches.
The result of this has been that inspirational captain Hlompho Kekana has been pinned back in a defensive role instead of leading the charge as he often does. Add to this that he was himself sidelined with injury, the problems Coach Pitso Mosimane has been facing are clear.
Yet, when they went out to take on Esperance in a similar environment the Brazilians showed resilience and forced a draw against all odds.
Sundowns will rue the missed chances against St George at the Lucas Moripe Stadium. They dominated the game while their opponents sat back. Yet, on their day, the Brazilians can cut through any defence, whether from wide positions or through the middle. It is perhaps in the latter area that Sundowns have missed the combination between Themba Zwane, Billiat and Percy Tau. Although Sibusiso Vilakazi has been coming of age in the Brazilians colors, the combination play that he is renowned for have not quite worked out.
Yet, he has two Champions League goals to his name, but he is capable of more. Ivorian Yannick Zakri is showing his quality, and clearly a combination between him, Billiat and Percy Tau will deliver the breakthrough play that Sundowns are known for. Tau has been scoring some critical goals for both club and national side, but the technical team would have been concerned about managing his decision making in the box. On his day, and in combination with Themba Zwane, they can destroy any defence.
The role of Tebogo Langerman in delivering the crosses from wide on the left have been very productive for Sundowns, and particularly for Leonardo Castro, whose presence in the box could be intimidating for the Ethiopians.
St George have twice lost to AS Vita Club in their only losses in their last seven outings, drawing against Esperance goalless, and 2-2 against Fasil Ketema in their domestic league.
Sundowns has been lukewarm this season, drawing five times in their last eight, but losing only once to Esperance at home, and showing that they are strong on the road by beating Vita 3-1.
Mosimane’s lads only need to replicate that form to see off St George.
The critical approach will need to be an early onslaught to get the goal that can shake St George out of their defensive shell. And they are capable of that as they have scored just over 28% of their goals in the first fifteen minutes, and a similar percentage between fifteen minutes and 30 minutes.
Sundowns goal minder Denis Onyango has made the point that his side needs to keep a clean sheet as a platform for victory. Much will depend on his role between the sticks. He will have his rival in the Uganda national team, Robert Odongkara, on the opposite side, who will no doubt be out to prove that he is a better goalkeeper.
Mosimane’s defence is slowly coming right, with Wayne Arendse returning from injury to increase the coach’s options.
For the champions, it is do or die.