Mamelodi Sundowns are just two matches away from being crowned champions of Africa but just like the 2001 final, the club from South Africa’s capital has to overcome an Egyptian powerhouse in a two-legged North versus South affair for the coveted Holy Grail of continental club football.
The Brazilians will be looking at drawing first blood when they host five-time winners Zamalek in the first leg of the final at the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Attredgeville and understand that nothing less than a victory would make their long awaited dream of being crowned Africa’s champions far from reality. The highly anticipated clash will be the third time the two giants square off after Sundowns overcame the White Knights twice at the pool stages to finish top of Group B.
While a packed stadium and support of the Sundowns faithful is guaranteed on Saturday, the club will be looking at restoring their supporters’ pride following their humiliating 3-0 defeat in a domestic cup final just two weeks ago. Since then, the Brazilians have not been in action and will be coming out guns blazing in search of a victory at home.
The Cairo giants are determined not to lose against the same side for a third successive time. They may have come second best in the last two meetings but players such as Bassem Morsy can cause serious harm to Sundowns should they be left unmarked.
Morsy is considered one of the deadliest strikers in the Egyptian league. The 24-year-old forward has found the net four times in the competition and will need to be under strict supervision by the Sundowns backline if they wish to travel to Alexandria with a clean sheet.
Another potential threat for the home side will be the experience of midfield maestro, Mahmoud Abdel Razek Fadlallah, nicknamed ‘Shikabala’. Should the former Sporting Lisbon player and AFCON 2010 winner repeat his semi-final performance against Wydad Athletic Club of Morocco, where he received a standing ovation for a superb performance, a huge upset may be on the cards for Sundowns.
The South African champions will be relying heavily on their artistic forwards such as Liberian-import Anthony Laffor, Zimbabwean Khama Billiat and Percy Tau. The trio’s creativity has been exceptional in the Brazilians’ journey to the final and they will look to give their best performance on the day.
Tau has been a revelation for the Brazilians this term. With the departure of a number of players during the transfer window, the 22-year-old has stepped up and rewarded coach Pitso Mosimane’s trust with solid performances plus a goal against Zesco United in the second leg of the semi-finals. The budding midfielder is determined to make history with the club and looks forward to doing it against their Egyptian opponents.
“We need to change the perception of Egyptian clubs being dominant over South African clubs. We lost to Al Ahly in 2001; Orlando Pirates lost against the same side in 2013 and it has to end now.
“It certainly will not be easy against Zamalek even though we have had the better of them earlier in the competition. Previous results are history now; they have more Champions League final experience so we need to take it as if it is our first meeting with them and go all out.
Pound for pound, both sides match each boasting quality right from the bench. The differentiator of better composure and mental strength will make the difference in both meetings.
At stake for the winner is US$1.5 million prize-money for the winner and the ticket to represent Africa at the FIFA Club World Cup in December in Japan.
Source: Confederation of African Football.