Mamelodi Sundowns surely sent out an early warning as they comfortably booked their place in the Caf Champions League for the fourth consecutive year on Saturday.
With a place in the group stage at stake, Sundowns faced off against Al Ahli Benghazi, knowing that nothing but a victory would confirm their path into the next round after playing out to a goalless draw in the away leg in Cairo.
However, Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane, who was in Morocco earlier in the week completing his Caf Pro Licence, gave the ‘man for the big occasion’ Anthony Laffor the nod.
Sundowns knew that they could not afford to let their guard down considering the importance of an away goal should Benghazi score.
Nonetheless, the addition of Laffor seemed to be inspired as the Liberian dazzled his way down the right wing and was the first to test the opposition keeper.
Minutes later, Jeremy Brockie came close to his third goal of the competition as he had his effort denied by the woodwork in spite of having the goal at his mercy.
It was all Sundowns in terms of attack, and while the Libyans did threaten, the ever-dangerous Gaston Sirino eventually broke the deadlock, registering his sixth goal in all competitions, as he combined well with Laffor and made no mistake from close range.
While Sundowns were in the driver’s seat in the first half, they did not take their foot off the peddle, and with the Brazilians looking to head into the break with just a slender advantage for their efforts as Laffor squandered a good opportunity, they ended up doubling their advantage.
Sirino was again in the thick of things as he played the ball for Brockie just outside the box, and his effort was turned in by the Libyan defender Omar.
Sundowns walked into the tunnel at half-time a happy bunch and Mosimane would have been delighted as his side found themselves on the brink of qualification for the group stages.
This was confirmed early in the second half when Laffor got his name deservedly on the scoreline. One again, Sirino was the provider as he played the lanky winger through on goal, and after a superb first touch, he did not make any mistake as he put the ball past the Benghazi keeper with 50 minutes on the clock.
Sundowns were on fire and were turning it on to the delight of the handful of fans who braved the blistering heat to watch their favourite stars in action.
Meanwhile, Laffor looked as though he had a point to prove considering his limited game-time due to the injuries that he has suffered this season, and perhaps should have had a penalty to go along with his goal as he appeared to be brought down in the box after working his way into the box, but his pleas fell on deaf ears.
Sirino then looked to do outdo Laffor as he used his skill to work his way into the box, only for his effort to be placed just wide, although he had only the keeper to beat.
The South American was putting on a performance to remember, and he came even closer just after the hour mark. This time he showed his agility with an acrobatic effort that agonisingly missed the target.
To Ahli Benghazi’s credit, they were not throwing in the towel and continued with their attempts to trouble Kennedy Mweene, who was a passenger for most of the game.
Sundowns conceded just one goal in three games thus far in the competition and they were proving just why they were so stingy at the back as the backline remained resolute.
Mosimane would likely be disappointed by his side’s wastefulness in front of goal as several opportunities when begging.
This saw the Sundowns technical team throw on Jose Ali Meza and his introduction proved impactful as he found the back of the net with a superb low-drive with 10 minutes to go, rounding off an excellent performance.