Mamelodi Sundowns' 2017 Caf Champions League campaign has not gone as smoothly as they would have liked.
Following a goalless draw against Ethiopian giants Kedus Giorgis, Sundowns earned a valuable away victory in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), only to be brought back down to earth by the Tunisian champions Esperance Sportive de Tunis in their own back yard.
Masandawana coach Pitso Mosimane will most certainly be ruing his side’s missed opportunities, particularly at home. Considering the struggles that South African club sides generally endure when they travel on the continent, Sundowns will know better than anyone the difficulty of the task at hand.
With three games remaining in the group stages, the Brazilians currently find themselves in third place, three points behind the Tunisian giants. Nevertheless, Sundowns still have everything to play for and Goal analyses Sundowns’ next three encounters and what Mosimane’s men should expect as they attempt to defend their crown.
Esperance - Sundowns
Next up for Sundowns will be a daunting trip to Tunis and after suffering defeat at the hands of the North Africans in the reverse leg, the Tshwane giants know the importance victory. However, Sundowns can consider a draw as an acceptable point due to the circumstances at hand.
On the plus side, Sundowns go into the fixture buoyed by the return of many of their star players. While Sundowns went into the reverse fixture a wounded side, coach Mosimane is expected to have the bulk of his side back and raring to go. The likes of Hlompho Kekana and Anthony Laffor are expected to make their returns alongside the likes of Ricardo Nascimento, Wayne Arendse and several others, which would add extra solidity to the backline. Although, it should be noted that Sundowns will be in a race against time to have their talismanic attacker Khama Billiat ready for the clash.
It has by no means been an easy ride for Sundowns on the continent, as their success has come at a price. But with the league now something of the past, Sundowns can focus firmly on progression in Africa’s most prestigious club tournament.
The break from domestic football also could be considered as the perfect way to mentally prepare the team to have one goal in mind, after all walking onto the Stade Olympique de Rades pitch and holding your own, is by no means an easy feat, and deserves the utmost respect and preparation.
Sundowns – AS Vita
While the previous encounter against AS Vita Club went better than even the most loyal of Sundowns fans could have hoped, the return leg could possibly make or break Sundowns’ campaign. Coach Mosimane will once again emphasise the importance of victory, especially it being a home game.
If Sundowns fail to secure three points against Esperance, then only a positive result would see them have any chance of making it out of their group. But this time around they will need to be mindful of a Congolese team seeking revenge. Defeat in Kinshasa severely hurt Florent Ibenge’s men and he will certainly set his side up to gain all three-points.
St George – Sundowns
Lastly, the defending champions will need to make the difficult journey to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. While Mosimane’s men will be hoping to have sealed qualification by then, it remains unlikely and this could possibly be Sundowns most difficult challenge in the tournament. Despite Esperance being a formidable opponent, their exploits on the continent are well documented, unlike the Ethiopians. St George have never previously reached the lucrative group stages before, but after earning valuable points against Esperance and Sundowns, and securing a brave victory against the Dolphins, St George will favour their chances.
It is also important to note that the Ethiopians have an impressive following in their homeland, meaning that Sundowns will need to be at their very best in front of what is expected to be a 35000-capacity crowd in the Ethiopian capital.
Nevertheless, in spite of all the challenges that lie ahead, Sundowns’ fate still remains in their hands.