The draw nobody really wanted was conducted at the Confederation of African Football (CAF) headquarters in Cairo on Friday afternoon.
It remained a distinct possibility, but many dismissed it and concluded that Al Ahly and Mamelodi Sundowns would probably meet either at the semi-final stages or in the final of Africa’s premier club competition.
But in a strange twist of fate, Sundowns drew Al Ahly amid gasps and disbelief from supporters and followers of both teams who desperately wished for the two teams to be kept apart.
Since astute Al Ahly coach Pitso Mosimane suddenly quit Chloorkop to join the Cairo Red Devils after winning three trophies in Pretoria, he established himself as a cult hero after snatching an additional three trophies with Ahly the same season.
And as the Champions League progressed, the inevitable question remained among followers of the beautiful game that should both teams advance to the knockout stages of the competition, what would happen if the two teams collide?
The answer was quickly provided by loquacious Mosimane, a master in mind games as he confidently announced that “All the teams that topped their respective groups, including my former team Sundowns, do not wish to face Ahly. We are a strong team and we have won the Champions League a record nine times. We will continue our journey to defend the title.”
But his statement was not lost to his former colleagues now guiding Sundowns, particularly Rulani Mokwena who shot back: “Coach Pitso is right, who exactly wants to play the defending champions except Mamelodi Sundowns?
“We welcome the statement (that nobody wants to play Al Ahly) because that’s the competition. Once you get to the last eight and the last four, you get to play anybody and you get to play against the best teams. But if coach Pitso is really honest, I don’t think he wants to play against Sundowns!”
The battle lines have been drawn and the first salvos have been fired. It is up to the two teams to indicate who does not want to play who when they clash in the first leg encounter in Cairo on May 14-15 and in Pretoria on May 21-22.
Mosimane led Sundowns to the 2016 summit with an emphatic 5-1 thrashing of Ahly along the way. But the Red Devils extracted revenge somehow when they eliminated Sundowns 3-1 last year en-route to winning the Holy Grail of African football.
Kaizer Chiefs have stuttered throughout the campaign and at one stage appeared destined to be eliminated after suffering a heart-breaking 4-1 loss to Wydad Casablanca but finds themselves up against Simba, Tanzania’s finest outfit who topped a group that included Al Ahly.
In the Confederation Cup competition, Orlando Pirates was certainly thrown to the wolves when one considers that their quarterfinal opponents – Raja Casablanca – qualified for the knockout stage with a perfect record of 18 points after six victories achieved with 14 goals without conceding a single goal in the process – a lethal outfit indeed!
CAF Champions League Fixtures:
Al Ahly vs Mamelodi Sundowns
Kaizer Chiefs vs Simba
MC Algers vs Wydad Casablanca
Beluizdad vs Esperance de Tunis
CAF Confederation Cup draw:
CS Sfaxien vs JS Kabylie
Orlando Pirates vs Raja Casablanca
Pyramids FC vs Enyimba
Coton Sport vs Diaraf Dakar