Mamelodi Sundowns crashed out of the 2017 Caf Champions League on Saturday night after losing out on penalties to Wydad Casablanca in Morocco.
While Sundowns put on a valiant effort on the night, the hostile atmosphere which awaited them at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in the Moroccan capital of Rabat seemed to get the better of the defending champions on the night as they looked devoid of ideas.
However, credit should be given to the north Africans, who found a way of neutralising Sundowns’ usually fluid game plan, and used their pace and trickery down the wings to grab the upper hand.
But in the aftermath of the Brazilians’ heart wrenching defeat, lessons have surely been learnt. Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane has stated that Sundowns lost the tie in Tshwane and not in Rabat as a slender one-goal advantage was not good enough.
While it is true that Sundowns should have scored more than just a single goal in the first leg, it should be noted that they were completely outplayed in the second leg, failing to create any real opportunities of substance and were lucky not to have conceded more, but despite Mosimane’s bullish approach prior to the second leg, the pressure proved to be a little too much to handle for Sundowns, especially their defence, which looked fragile throughout the second leg.
In hindsight, Mosimane’s utterances that Sundowns would not return to South Africa backfired and was more of a ‘counting chickens before they hatch’ scenario as their pragmatic approach did not scare the Moroccan champions.
Nonetheless, another factor which could be interpreted as a tactical error by the Sundowns technical team was the introduction of Khama Billiat. The 27-year-old looked a shadow of his usual self, and his lack of game time clearly showed as he struggled to influence the game.
The Tshwane giants would have perhaps looked livelier had Leonardo Castro or Yannick Zakri partnered Percy Tau upfront. Tau was arguably Sundowns only real threat and his pace did prove a handful for the Kings of Titles’ defence to deal with, but Wydad's physicality meant that Tau would not be able to cause much damage.
Nevertheless, it was widely reported in the run-up to the game that Sundowns were exposed to the north Africa’s infamous gamesmanship, but that should have not be used as an excuse as their previous experiences on the continent would have taught them to expect such antics. After all they were exposed to the same type of reception in last year’s final against Zamalek where they triumphed.
Lastly, Sundowns failure in this year’s edition could be a blessing in disguise. Sundowns have been forced to balance their continental exploits with their domestic aspirations over the last two years, barely enjoying a proper pre-season and it has clearly taken its toll on the players.
Thus, being eliminated gives Sundowns the opportunity to once again regain their focus ahead of next year’s competition and build on this year’s quarterfinal placing. With a squad that is expected to be bolstered severely in January, who’s going to bet against Sundowns taking back their crown?