After finishing the group as runners-up following their indifferent form during the group stages, Masandawana now have the unenviable task of taking on Moroccan giants Wydad Casablanca in the quarterfinals. If Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane has learnt anything from his previous experience in the tournament, he will surely understand the propensity of the task ahead, and come Sunday nothing less than victory will be acceptable for the current African Champions.
Ahead of the clash, the Brazilians know they have an opportunity to grab the early ascendency and against North African opponents making use of the home ground advantage is a must. But Sundowns’ preparations going into the game have been hampered by fatigue and injuries.
Although, Sundowns will have just under a week of rest before the encounter, fatigue most certainly will play a role as players such as Percy Tau, Tebogo Langerman, Denis Onyango and Hlompho Kekana only recently returned from international duty.
Fatigue combined with injuries to key figures such as Khama Billiat, who has had an injury ravaged last few months poses a concern for Mosimane, and it’s also important to note that Anthony Laffor is also likely to miss the clash, which will come as a massive blow to Mosimane’s plans as he has become one for the ‘bigger games’.
Nonetheless, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Tshwane giants. Sundowns have arguably a stronger squad than they had prior to the start of the competition, thanks to the additions of Oupa Manyisa and George Lebese. Manyisa’s experience in particular will be vital as he has been here before with Orlando Pirates.
Nevertheless, Sundowns’ recent victory against Free State Stars came as major boost to the team’s confidence despite undergoing a less than impressive start to the 2017/2018 season, where they have registered two wins and two loses in all competitions.
It should also be noted that defensively Sundowns have looked frail of late and it is essential that the senior members of the squad like Wayne Arendse and Anele Ngcongca pick up their hands and guide the likes of youngster Motjeka Madisha through such a pressurised environment.
Meanwhile, the Kings of Titles are once again on the rise as they have reached the knockout stages for the second time in successive years. But they too have not had the best of starts to their domestic campaign as they opened their account with a disappointing 3-1 loss against FUS Rabat this past weekend.
Also, a massive boost that Sundowns have been given is that the first leg will be played at the Lucas Moripe Stadium, which has a field far more conducive to Sundowns’ exciting brand of football, and the fact that the encounter will also be played during the day could give Sundowns an added advantage. North African’s predominantly tend to play during the evening and Mosimane will hope to utilise this tactic which worked so well against Wydad’s Egyptian rivals Zamalek in last year’s final.
While Sundowns will fancy their chances, it remains to be seen just which Sundowns we are likely to see. Over recent times, a concern has been their wastefulness in front of goal especially without Billiat, and against stronger opposition they certainly cannot afford to miss clear-cut goal scoring opportunities.
However, if Tau reciprocates his stunning brace from Monday night, Sundowns will not have anything to worry about when the two giants of African football collide.