In an atmosphere and level of pressure at a rarified height where normal humans struggle to breathe, Mamelodi Sundowns became kings of Africa.
Surviving Zamalek’s relentless attacking, Stanley Owahuchi’s 65th minute goal and a clock that appeared to count down at one seconds to every two, Downs lost the second leg 1-0 to win the Caf Champions League final 3-1 on aggregate.
After their 3-0 victory in Atteridgeville last Saturday, the second leg at Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria on Sunday night had all the elements of the game we love. An electrifying atmosphere generated by a superb crowd, a match played at breakneck speed, guts, determination, drama and in the end, for Sundowns, sweet, satisfying glory.
Sundowns did the hard work putting their bodies on the line to keep the score goalless by the break, and in so doing won the game.
At times they did what their coach Pitso Mosimane becomes so riled about against lower-standard opposition in the PSL – parked the bus. On Sunday night, Sundowns all but threw away the keys, too, against a White Knights side playing like men possessed.
In the second half, and especially after Owahuchi’s goal, Downs were prepared to hoof the ball to anywhere.
Mosimane had said the first 15 minutes would be crucial. An early goal would have turned the stadium into a volcano and the tie into a nerve-jangler for Downs.
Sundowns played the opening half-hour superbly. Their streetwise time-wasting, absorbing of pressure and sporadic counter-attacks – not committing numbers forward, but cleverly utilising their pace and skill of the front-runners – had Zamalek frustrated.
An early piece of skill by Tebogo Langerman led to Khama Billiat having space to shoot wide from range.
In the 12th minute Zamalek almost had their goal. Right-back Ramzi Khaled played an angled pass in that playmaker Owahuchi burst through onto, Denis Onyango spreading himself enough for the Nigerian to steer wide.
It was a setback to Downs when Onyango was stretchered off with a neck brace in the 28th, and replaced by Wayne Sandilands.
Billiat battled for everything receiving Downs’ long passes out of defence. In the Brazilians’ best chance of the half he skipped down the left and chipped, Percy Tau’s volley over his shoulder forcing a fine save from goalkeeper Mahmoud Gennesh.
Zamalek worked the ball via Ayman Hefni from the right to Ahmed Tawfik free on the left, who forced a sharp save from Sandilands. Downs broke and Tau fed Billiat on the right, who fell on his deflected shot that looped onto the crossbar.
In eight minutes of added time Billiat won Mbekile’s long ball out of defence and fed Laffor, whose shot was tipped over by Gennesh.
Basem Morsy glanced a header dangerously close for the Knights just after the restart.
But Zamalek looked spent. They needed something – desperately.
It came when Owahuchi created space for himself in the middle and unleashed a skidding shot that Sandilands got a touch too, but could not keep out of his net.
The volcano erupted, and Sundowns had a freakishly tense last 25 minutes to contend with, with Zamalek revitalised and with all the momentum.
In the 87th Owahuchi’s cross found substitute Emmanuel Mayuka to nod his header past Sandilands, Soumahoro Bangaly clearing off the line.