Sundowns bid to become first SA club to finish Champions League group stages unbeaten
Mamelodi Sundowns might have already easily qualified for the knockout stages of the Caf Champions League but success in their last group game on Saturday is vital for more than just morale-boosting reasons.
Pitso Mosimane’s men host perennial foe Wydad Casablanca in the last of their Group C games.
Wydad‚ who recently changed coaches and now have Frenchman Sebastien Desabre in charge‚ are also through‚ having ensured their qualification when they beat USM Alger 3-1 at home last Friday.
Sundowns have a two-point advantage over Wydad‚ so a draw would be enough to secure top place.
With that should come easier opposition in the quarterfinals‚ missing from having to play holders Esperance of Tunisia for a start‚ plus home advantage in the second leg of the quarterfinals. These are two major factors in their favour.
The quarterfinal draw is set for Cairo on Sunday‚ February 9 and if Sundowns can finish top they will play either Egypt’s Zamalek‚ Raja Casablanca from Morocco and likely either Al Ahly (Egypt) or Al Hilal from Sudan.
The matches are being played on February 28 and 29 (first leg) and March 6-7 (second leg).
It would make their path to the semifinals a lot easier to avoid the likes of the expected other group winners - Tunisian duo Esperance and Etoile Sahel and the Congolese giants TP Mazembe‚ who have proven a nemesis for Sundowns in the past.
Also at stake for Sundowns are some bragging rights: They are on course to becoming the first South African side in 14 attempts to finish the group phase of a Champions League campaign unbeaten.
In Sundowns’ six previous group campaigns they have lost at least one in each of the group stages‚ even in 2016 when they went on to win the continent’s top prize.
They were beaten away at Enyimba in their last group game‚ having already qualified by then.
In 2001‚ when they reached the final‚ they also lost once in the group phase.
Orlando Pirates have played in four Champions League group stages: They lost five out of six times in the first edition in 1997 and twice in 2013‚ when they got to the final.
Manning Rangers (two losses in 1998)‚ SuperSport United (two in 2004) and Ajax Cape Town (three in 2005) are the other South African clubs to have competed in the group stage of the Champions League.