Sundowns had a point to prove as they hosted Spanish giants Barcelona at a packed FNB Stadium.
The clash which was used to celebrate the 100th birthday of the fallen former state president Nelson Mandela promised fireworks as both sides were champions in their respective leagues. As expected Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane fielded his strongest starting XI with Ricardo Nascimento his only real absentee due to flu.
On the side of Barcelona though, coach Ernesto Valverde was looking to utilise the game as preparation for their final LaLiga encounter, but opted for the attacking threat of Andres Iniesta and Suarez upfront. There was however, no space for talisman Lionel Messi who would start from the bench.
While the clash might have been a friendly encounter, Barcelona were taking no prisoners as they broke the deadlock as early as the fourth minute of the game. Dembele capitalised on a mistake by Bangaly Soumahoro, and the attacker made no mistake as he placed his effort past a despairing Denis Onyango.
While Sundowns were trying to get a footing into the game, they were being let down by their passing. Far too many balls were misplaced by the usually precise Sundowns midfield. But when Sundowns did get their game going, they did look up to the challenge. Dangerman Percy tau had arguably Sundowns best opportunity of the first half but the forward failed to beat Marc-Ander Ter Stegen from close range as the German gathered his chip.
Meanwhile, Barca were teaching Sundowns a real lesson and would double their advantage with 15 minutes played. This time it was Suarez who showed excellent composure as he slid the ball past Onyango.
At the other end though, Sundowns looked dangerous from crosses into the box, and Ter Stegen would make a fingertip save to deny Wayne Arendse’s header. In an effort to narrow the gap before the break Sundowns pushed man forward, but this left them susceptible to the counter attack.
Dembele must have thought that he had his second of the night just before the half-hour mark, but Hlompho Kekana did well to clear the ball off the line, after Onyango got a touch to the striker’s effort.
Kekana was leading by example as he showed a never say die attitude, and would come agonisingly close as his trademark long-range effort was palmed away by the Barca keeper.
With the half-time whistle fast approaching, Barca would be disappointed as Denis Suarez’ header came off the post to the relief of Onyango and his fellow teammates. Despite Barca’s dominance Sundowns remained undeterred and Tiyani Mabunda would watch on as his stinging effort flew just past the upright as Sundowns went into the break behind.
The resumption of the second half saw Barca come back a changed outfit, as their technical team made several changes, with Phillipe Coutinho and Gerard Pique the most notable additions.
Although, Barca made wholesale changes for the half, they continued from where they left off in the first. But while they enjoyed several opportunities, Kekana would again prove to be Sundowns’ dangerman. The 32-year-old had a shot from the edge of the box, but Ter Stegen was up to the task as he saved Kekana’s drive with his legs.
The Brazilians were putting on a far more determined game plan. But while Mosimane’s side were looking to narrow the gap, the Sundowns technical team were also looking to give everyone a run as they brought on goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene for Onyango.
Mweene’s first task would be to remove the ball from the back of the net as a mistake by Kekana saw Gomes score Barca’s third and take the game beyond the home side’s reach.
With just over 15 minutes remaining, Coutinho showed his magic but this time he was denied by a smart save from Mweene. Immediately thereafter, Sundowns nightmare would come true as Messi was finally thrown on.
However, it would be Sundowns who grabbed a consolation. Tau showed his class as he superbly played Vilakazi through on goal, and the 28-year-old made no mistake as he stuck his effort past Ter Stegen which gave the home fans something to cheer about.
The goal spurred Sundowns on and perhaps they should have narrowed the deficit even further as full-back Tebogo Langerman was guilty of passing when he should have shot with the only the keeper to beat.
Nonetheless, there would be no further goals, as Barca would claim a comfortable 3-1 victory in Johannesburg.