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Mamelodi Sundowns: So much more to come despite Caf Champions League rout

3:20 AM GMT+8 15/09/2019
Phakamani Mahlambi, Mamelodi Sundowns, May 2019
The Brazilians secured a 5-0 victory against Cote d’Or on Saturday, but they still have much more to offer

Mamelodi Sundowns’ critics will point to the paucity of their opponents—Cote d’Or—and their initial difficulties in front of goal to detract from what was a professional performance as they demolished their opponents 5-0 in the Caf Champions League on Saturday.

There’d be some truth to those arguments.

Cote d’Or are minnows compared to Sundowns; they play in 2,000-capacity Amite Stadium in Praslin, had never progressed past the Preliminary Round of the Caf CL before this season, and only had to defeat Fomboni of the Comoros to reach the First Round this season.

They don’t have the resources to compete with Downs, and shouldn’t have proved to be much of an obstacle.

Certainly, Downs could have killed off the match sooner.

After initially taking control through Tiyani Mabunda in the fifth minute, they were made to wait another 63 minutes before Lyle Lakay gave them complete control.

In the interim, both Sibusiso Vilakazi and Sphelele Mkhulise missed chances, while Wayne Arendse, who later got on the scoresheet, was forced into a last-gasp block to keep the scores level.

They should have added to their tally earlier, but ultimately, it didn’t matter, as they completed a 5-0 rout following goals from Lakay, Mkhulise and Arendse. 

The tie is essentially over, and Pitso Mosimane can afford to rest his key stars for the second leg.

However, worryingly for Sundowns’ opponents—both in Africa and domestically—is that there’s so much more to come from this team, and this squad, than they demonstrated against Cote d’Or.

After all, this was a particularly patched-up and sub-strength Brazilians side that took to the field in the Seychelles.

At the back, they were without influential goalkeeper Denis Onyango, whose value will truly be felt in the latter stages of the competition, while Rivaldo Coetzee was also absent. 

How critical can his defensive poise, not to mention his work with the ball at feet, be as Sundowns encounter greater hurdles over the coming months?

Coetzee is working on his fitness in order to be available, according to a statement on Downs’ website, and will represent a major addition when he returns.

There are other areas where Mosimane can expect to bolster his options imminently.

Jose Ali Meza and Aubrey Ngoma travelled with the team to the Seychelles, despite not being eligible for the Champions League, and both will surely make their mark domestically as Sundowns look to compete on multiple fronts.

Venezuelan attacker Meza, a new arrival, may well have a point to prove after earlier appearing to be on the brink of a move to Maritzburg United, but could still be a valuable option in midfield for Mosimane.

Certainly, he’ll have to compete with the likes of Themba Zwane, Gaston Sirino and Lebohang Maboe for gametime, but his presence means that Motsimane can take more of a risk with his heavyweight midfield options in Caf competitions, knowing the South American is available domestically.

Ngoma is another who had appeared destined for a move away from the club during the offseason, but after remaining at the club, he must now integrate back into the fold. Perhaps taking him to the Seychelles is Mosimane’s way of engendering tighter connections among his squad players.

Versatility and fitness are not Ngoma’s strengths, but as a wide option to bring off the bench against tired legs, he may yet have something to offer.

Thapelo Morena is another who’s struggled with injuries, but it’s clear the consistent speedster is destined for international football before too long.

His pace, which could be used in attacking areas or at right-back, should give Downs plenty of options; encouraging the overlap and giving them compensation with his speed if they push forward, while his defensive rigour makes him a valuable option for the bigger games as well.

The key absentee is Phakamani Mahlambi, who also has a point to prove after returning to South Africa following a testing spell at Al-Ahly.

A move to the Egyptian giants perhaps wasn’t the wisest step for one so young, and one so raw, but Mahlambi’s qualities are clear for all to see, even if there are some questions about his attitude.

It will be one of Mosimane’s greatest feats if he can reassemble Mahlambi’s career and help the player back onto the trajectory it once appeared he was destined to enjoy. The wonderkid must embrace the tutelage the experienced coach offers, and surely, if he does, he can relish the prospect of being Downs’ star man for those big continental clashes.

Anthony Laffor of Liberia is another, both to come back into the team and whose injury problems have made for an increasingly frustrating spell at Downs. 

He’s currently back training, albeit alone, and may yet have something to offer.

At 34, Laffor boasts experience, and while he isn't the player he once was, he still has a record of making one decisive contribution in one of every three PSL games, having amassed 51 goals and 27 assists in his top-flight career.

At the other end of the scale, starlet Keletso Makgalwa—nicknamed Aguero—remains out of action, although he faces a battle for gametime when he does return to full fitness.

Mosimane has already spoke highly of the youngster, likening him to Percy Tau, and the right winger has already demonstrated his impact off the bench, notably in the MTN 8 showdown with Bloemfontein Celtic last month.

He boasts the unpredictability to unsettle defences—both continentally and domestically—and, like Mahlambi, he will doubtless benefit from Mosimane’s guidance.

Then, finally, there are the new signings.

After all, Sundowns boosted their title-winning squad with the arrivals of Mauricio Affonso and Tokelo Rantie, as well as Emiliano Tade, who joined in January only for injury and competition to affect his impact.

Tade, certainly has something to offer, he demonstrated this at AmaZulu where he forged a fine partnership with Bongi Ntuli.

The South American excels at dribbling, while his finishing is also effective. If he can dislodge some of Mosimane’s favourites and get a regular run in the team, he could be a lethal presence for the Brazilians.

Perhaps Jeremy Brockie's exit will afford Tade more opportunities, even though Rantie is primed to step into the breach.

Rantie will need time to get back into the rhythm of this high level of football, and Mosimane has played down early expectations.

27-year-old Affonso ought to be in his prime, and while four goals in 11 Ligua 1 Apertura outings before coming to the club isn’t an overwhelming return, he offers presence, physicality, and a Plan B in continental competitions.

"We don't have a player of his style and ability,” Mosimane told the Sowetan. “We believe he is more important for us for the Champions League.

"The whole thing is to see if the style he plays will fit with our style."

Of course, there are many ifs and buts about Sundowns’ injured army, and which of them can step up to the Brazilians’ expectations or rediscover their former levels. 

However, even if only two or three of them manage to realise the potential outlined in this article, then Sundowns will boast the kind of options that none of their domestic rivals, and perhaps few of their continental foe, can match.