Monday 24 October 2016, 00:07

Africa's ticket to Japan punched

Mamelodi Sundowns will be the first South African club to play at the FIFA Club World Cup after winning the CAF Champions League on Sunday. Even though the 'Brazilians', as they are known, were beaten 1-0 by Egyptian giants Zamalek in Alexandria, they won 3-1 on aggregate after a convincing first-leg victory in South Africa last weekend.

Close, but not close enough Zamalek coach Moemen Soliman made several changes to the side, bringing in Ahmed Dwidar to stabilise the defence and starting with playmaker Mostafa Fathi for Shikabala. The home side also started the game with Mahmoud 'Gennesh' in goal instead of Ahmed El Shenawy, who had gifted Sundowns the second goal in the 3-0 defeat in the first leg. Gennesh had very little to do throughout most of the first half though, as the White Knights took the game to the visitors, chasing an unlikely three-goal victory that would allow them to win a sixth African title.

They were nearly rewarded early on, when Nigerian striker Stanley Ohawuchi suddenly found himself with only goalkeeper Denis Onyango to beat after getting past Thabo Nthethe and Ivorian defender Soumahoro Bangaly. But instead of scoring the opener that would have boosted Zamalek's confidence, he put the ball wide.

Sundowns' hopes of becoming only the second South African club, after Orlando Pirates, to win the showpiece event of African club football suffered a set-back midway through the first half when Onyango had to be taken off injured. He was replaced by the highly experienced Wayne Sandilands. South African Footballer of the Year Khama Billiat had the first good chance for Sundowns shortly afterwards when he forced a good save from Gennesh, who was fortunate just before the break when a Billiat shot was deflected against the crossbar and over the line for a corner.

Zamalek continued pushing forward after the break, but struggled to find a way through a compact defence. They were finally rewarded for their efforts in the 64th minute when Ohawuchi found the net with a shot from outside the area. Needing two more goals to stand a chance of a sensational comeback, Zamalek pushed even more players forward. Substitute Emmanuel Manyuka thought he had scored a second with six minutes to go, but the ball was cleared off the line.

**Moment of the game**

Needing to make up a three-goal deficit, Zamalek always knew that they had to start strongly if they wanted to have any chance of snatching the title away from Sundowns. Cheered on by a capacity crowd of over 80,000 in the Borg El-Arab Stadium, the home side dominated play from early on. They nearly snatched the all-important lead in the 12th minute when Ohawuchi managed to penetrate the Sundowns area, going past Nthethe and Bangaly. But with the goal at his mercy and only goalkeeper Onyango to beat, the Nigerian shot just wide.

What they said " have been waiting for this. It’s not our trophy – it’s their trophy. It’s for them to have bragging rights..." Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane looking forward to returning to South Africa as African champions.

Player of the game Although Ohawuchi has nothing to show for his first appearance in a continental final, the Nigerian striker came close to deciding the championship match on his own. He was a danger throughout the 90 minutes, had a good chance to open the scoring early on and then found the opener for his side midway through the second half. He is a well-travelled, having started playing professional football for his hometown club Bayelsa United, the striker moved to Heartland, before embarking on a career in Europe. His first point of call was Spain, where his match time with lower league club Atletico Baleares was limited. He then signed in Malta for Silema Wanderers, where he had more success, prompting Egyptian club Wadi Degla to make him an offer he could not refuse. Zamalek took him on loan earlier this year to bolster their Champions League squad.

The stat 6 – The number of titles that Zamalek were chasing. The White Knights currently stand on five wins and only local rivals Al Ahly (eight) have won more. However, Zamalek's last victory dates back to 2002 and fans were hoping the team would put an end to that long wait, but it was not to be.

Have your say Will Sundowns be a strong representative for Africa at the FIFA Club World Cup at the end of the year? TP Mazembe and Raja Casablanca have managed to make it all the way to the final. Can the South African club emulate that success and possibly even go one further?