SUNDOWNS EMBARK ON AMBITIOUS JOURNEYThomas Kwenaite
Al Ain became the first team to qualify for the FIFA World Club championship to be staged during December when they won the United Arab Emirates League championship with a game to spare.
Zoran Mamic’s team which also has Ghanaian left footed attacker Asamoah Gyan, defeated Al Nasr 4-0 with Swedish international Marcus Berg grabbing a hat-trick and Ahmed Khalil added the fourth to help the team collect their 13th league championship.
Al Ain has comfortably put themselves where Pitso Mosimane would like to see Mamelodi Sundowns occupying. The former African coach of the year has made it known that the FIFA World Club Championship is where he wishes to participate.
In late 2016 after, the Pretoria side had deservedly won the CAF Champions League, Sundowns lost all their matches at the prestigious tournament won the Spanish giants Real Madrid and Mosimane has made it known that he wished to have another go at the tournament.
But while Al Ain has already put a foot on the door of the competition, Sundowns start the long and arduous task of qualifying for the UAE tournament this weekend with the first of their CAF Champions League group matches against defending champions Wydad Casablanca in Pretoria on Saturday.
Sadly, the Brazilians line-up against the North Africans, who ironically eliminated them from the competition last year, without mercurial Percy Tau who is serving a suspension for accumulating two cards during the same competition in the earlier rounds.
But nothing would please Mosimane more than to put one over the North Africans and the setting could not have been better than at a venue where they smashed Zamalek 3-0 to set up a healthy first leg lead prior to winning the competition during 2016.
Yet even without Tau, Mosimane still has Khama Billiat to call on and either Sbusiso Vilakazi or Jeremy Brockie who could both be deployed in the same role where Tau has been so effective during the last couple of weeks.
It has not escaped Mosimane’s attention that Casablanca wobbled in the first leg match against Ivorian rookies Williamsville who handed the Moroccans a 2-0 beating in Abidjan before Wydad overturned the first leg score to advance 7-4 on aggregate.
He will not reveal it to the public, but rest assured that Mosimane has studied them to the tee. It has neither escaped his hawk eyes that after conceding two away, they also conceded a further two goals at home but managed to score seven.
Mosimane is probably well aware that while they remain a free scoring side, their defence appears to be as open as a barn door, unlike last year when they won the continental crown, where they were stingy in defence and gave nothing away.
And the man to watch will no doubt be winger Ismael Haddad who grabbed a hat-trick against Williamsville and his ability to switch his attacks from the left to the right will need the Sundowns defence to assign somebody to keep him in check.