Downs fall short
Sundowns push for dear life but in the end died with boots on
By MAHLATSE MPHAHLELE At Loftus Versfeld Stadium
Arena Holdings PTY
Mamelodi Sundowns (0) 2 Wydad Casablanca (0) 2 Scorers: Sundowns – Themba Zwane (50m), Peter Shalulile (78m) Wydad – Ayoub El Amloud (72m), Mothobi Mvala (own goal, 82m) Wydad go through on away goals rule ● Their third appearance in the Champions League final will have to wait after Mothobi Mvala scored a spectacular late own goal that saw the Brazilians once again fail in the knockout stages. In front of a vociferous and full house yellow nation crowd at Loftus, Sundowns were stunned by a Mvala own goal in the closing stages as the Moroccans sneaked through 22 on away goals. With this result, it will be a repeat of last year’s final in which Wydad beat Al Ahly as the North Africans continue their dominance of this tournament which Sundowns last won on 2016. It was a heartbreaking end for Sundowns’ season which yielded one trophy in the form of the DStv Premiership which they wrapped up with seven matches to spare last month. The debates about whether it was a rewarding campaign will continue to rage on as most football pundits feel the Brazilians can only be judged on performances in the Champions League. Once again, Sundowns came short during the knockout stages after a brilliant group stages campaign where they beat Al Ahly 5-2 at Loftus a few weeks after they buried longserving official Alex “Goldfingers” Shakoane. Sundowns’ defeat has robbed South African football fans of an opportunity to see Al Ahly’s Percy Tau in the final against the team that played a significant role in his development. This defeat has also robbed Zwane, Denis Onyango and Kennedy Mweene of an opportunity to make an appearance in their second Champions League final. Zwane, Onyango and Mweene are the only three Sundowns players in the current Sundowns squad who won this tournament in 2016 when they beat Zamalek under coach Pitso Mosimane. Mokwena made one change to the team that started the first leg with Sphelele Mkhulise coming on for influential midfielder Neo Maema who was red carded last weekend. On the other hand, Wydad coach Sven Vandenbroeck made two changes to last weekend’s team with Yahya Adrissi replacing Aymane Hassouni and Abdellah Haimoud in for Saif-Eddine Bouhra. In the first leg, Wydad played most of the match against 10-men but despite their numerical advantage they failed to dominate Sundowns and largely sat back hoping to catch their hosts on the break. In the build-up to this match, Mokwena appealed to his platers for an early goal and Sundowns players started with Mkhulise, Peter Shalulile and Themba Zwane rushing forward. As the match progressed, Sundowns players began to find their feet in the game with the likes of Zwane, Sipho Mbule and Teboho Mokoena keeping hold of the ball. Most of the notable chances of the early exchanges fell for usually reliable and dangerous Namibian hitman Shalulile, who was strangely lethargic in front of goal. After 19 minutes, Sundowns found themselves under pressure when defender Abdelmounaim Boutouil misjudged an aerial ball and his poor judgement allowed Mohammed Ounnajem to threaten Ronwen Williams. A few minutes later, Wydad goalkeeper Youssef El Motie produced a stunning save to deny Shalulile from close range after another Sundowns attack that involved a few of their players. On the half-hour mark, Sudanese referee Mahmood Ismail temporarily stopped the match when Bouly Sambou and Arsene Kiaku collided in the air while trying to clear the ball. Zwane opened the scoring after 50 minutes with a thunderous shot from close range to send the fans into wild celebrations as he capitalised on a mistake by goalkeeper Yousseff El Motie. After 56 minutes, Yahya Jabrame was lucky to escape with only a yellow card after he brought down Shalulile, who was advancing to the Wydad danger area. Then it became a seesaw affair with Wydad equalising after 72 minutes and Shalulile giving the Brazilians the lead a few minutes later to give Sundowns hope. Then the moment of the game came after 82 minutes when Sundowns defender Mvala produced a spectacular header at the post to beat Williams and with that Sundowns’ hopes went up in smoke.