Another win, another progression into the knockout stage of the Caf Champions League. Nothing new really as the Brazilians continues to confirm their status as one of the giants of African football.
This victory over USM Alger ensured Pitso Mosimane’s team will compete in their fourth knockout phase of the continent’s premier club competition in five years. That they still have two more matches to play in the group phase speaks volumes of Sundowns’ domination.
As it was, the goal that the Algerians scored here was the first Sundowns conceded in the round robin phase – the South African champions having beaten Petro de Luanda 3-0, the self same USM 1-0 and drawn with Wydad Casablanca 0-0.
They now have to host the Moroccans and tackle the Angolan side away in matches to determine if they top the group or not. On the strength of their showings, it would be a travesty if they did not finish first.
To do that though they will have to play the entire matches with the intensity of the initial stanza of yesterday’s game and not slack as they did after the break.
As it was, Sundowns were fortunate to have won as they conceded a penalty on 84 minutes only for Mohamed Meftah to blast his kick against the woodwork.
This at a time when the home side looked to be playing for time as they passed the ball about as though they were in a training session.
They had done the job in the initial 45 minutes of the match that played out as expected, Sundowns taking the attacking initiative and USM sitting back and striving to catch their hosts on the break.
But the Brazilians very rarely gave possession away and as such pinned the Algerians in their own half for a significant part of the stanza.
Granted they went into the break 2-1 ahead, but Sundowns could easily have rendered the tie a no contest before halftime.
Mosimane’s team had three good chances in the first half hour that they should have used better. Sibusiso Vilakazi ran on to a through pass but failed to lob the ball over the advancing Mohamed Zemmamouche in the USM goals.
Moments later the visitors’ captain pulled off a brilliant stop to deny Vilakazi – the midfielder having struck the ball brilliantly on the half volley from inside the box.
When Themba Zwane failed to score on 30 minutes, you began to wonder if this was to be one of those afternoons when the goals just would not come for the hosts.
But such is the quality of the South African champions that they were never going to be dispirited by such misses.
Instead they gained confidence and patiently kept up with their slow build up play and interpassing to prose open the USM defence.
They finally succeeded on 36 minutes when Thapelo Morena blasted the ball into the roof of the net from close range after Zwane’s attempt was blocked.
For a moment just before the break the Sundowns defence went to sleep and got duly punished when Aimen Mahious headed in the equaliser following what appeared an innocuous rare sojourn into the attacking third by USM.
Stung by this goal, the Brazilians set out on an attack from the restart and Vilakazi slotted home the second to restore their lead just before the referee blew for the recess.
They came back from half time set on holding on to their lead and they did so as only they could – keeping possession and making a few forays into the final third when the opportunity arose.
With none of those attacks yielding any goals, the key was for them to keep things tight at the back. That was achieved with relative ease although they nearly committed suicide with that penalty.
In the end, Sundowns did the expected and qualified for the knockout stage yet again.