Mamelodi Sundowns sealed their passage into the knockout stage of the 2017 Caf Champions League on Saturday afternoon.
Masandawana once again put in a gutsy performance away from home against Ethiopia’s Kedus Giorgis to register their second away win of the group stages. The victory has signalled a new dawn for Sundowns who have certainly earned the right to be called African giants.
While in previous years, the Brazilians would have been satisfied with a point at best away from Tshwane, things have certainly changed for the better. The Brazilians are now showing exactly why they are the defending champions, and despite the difficult conditions and hostile atmosphere away from home, they have been getting the required results.
A notable feature of Sundowns’ 2017 campaign has been their tactical discipline. The Tshwane giants are boxing smart - they know when to attack and when to defend. In the past, North African sides were always lauded for their ability to kill off games, and perhaps Sundowns can now also be mentioned in the same breath.
It wasn’t necessarily Sundowns' attack mindedness which saw them flourish, but rather it was their defensive displays which could not go unnoticed.
In five games, Sundowns have only found the back of the net on five occasions, with three goals coming in their sensational victory over AS Vita, but defensively they have only been breached three times.
Although, this year’s campaign has not gone as smoothly as they would have hoped, Sundowns have fought on and will take several important lessons from their continental experiences.
While hiccups along the way may not have been wanted, they were certainly expected as Sundowns no longer possess the element of surprise and are now a marked team.
Nevertheless, Mosimane will be proud of his troops, who have stepped up to the plate when it counted the most. It is also worth mentioning that Sundowns have had to tackle the African continent without many of their star players, including Khama Billiat, which would explain their struggles in front of goal.
Also, the effect that fatigue has had on their squad cannot be undermined, and It is no surprise that Sundowns’ only defeat in the competition came at a time when they were nursing numerous injuries.
Lastly, as coach Mosimane has previously alluded to, Sundowns’ experience on the continent has carried them this far. This particularly showed in their victory over St. George and in the away draw against Esperance Sportive de Tunis, where they had their backs to the wall, but having players such as Hlompho Kekana, Anthony Laffor and Denis Onyango in the team helped to steady the ship, and they were able to grind out results, a true sign of champions.
After all, the key to succeeding on the African continent is not always in playing attractive football, but rather in keeping shape and maintaining discipline, and avoiding defeat at all costs. This is something which Sundowns have become accustomed to and they deserve to be applauded for it.