Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1317, (27 October - 2 November 2016)
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1317, (27 October - 2 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Not good enough

Zamalek lost the African Champions League to Mamelodi Sundowns after going down 3-1 on aggregate, Abeer Anwar reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa won their first dream title as CAF Champions League winners as Zamalek’s Stanley Ohawuchi goal on 64 minutes was not enough to make up for the Egyptian club’s 3-0 loss in Pretoria in their first leg match.

Zamalek played in front of an estimated 60,000 fans in the 86,000-capacity Borg El Arab Stadium on the outskirts of Alexandria on Sunday night. But the spectators who had come to see Zamalek win their sixth African crown did not appear to make a difference. Unaffected by the fans and the cheering that filled the stadium, Sundowns remained calm throughout, absorbing everything Zamalek threw at them.

At a press conference held after the match, Mo’men Suleiman, Zamalek’s rookie head coach, said how sad he was after losing the title “following such a long journey.

“It is an honour for us that we have kept our heads high after we lost 3-1 on aggregate and we restored the fans’ confidence in us. This is the biggest and most important thing. We have longed for and missed the fans backing the team even when it was losing.

“We created many chances and we dominated parts of the match but this is football. I took over the team a short time ago. I’m satisfied with what was achieved. During the three months in charge, I had only 20 training sessions with the team and I had only 14 players available for the latter stages. That is an achievement and Zamalek’s President Mortada Mansour came to our changing room to congratulate us for our performance,” said Suleiman who made much of being able to fight back when he spoke to reporters after the first leg but he appeared to lack genuine conviction.

“It was a very difficult game and went as expected,” Pitso Mosimane, Mamelodi Sundowns head coach, said. “We expected Zamalek to come on top for the first minutes. We told the players if we can deal with the first 15 minutes, we should be okay. It was also difficult for the players to play in front of such a packed crowd. We needed a little bit of organisation to keep hold of the game. Zamalek’s coach surprised me by deploying a different tactic by playing Stanley and Ayman Hefni, pushing the full backs out and they pressed us. But we really deserved to lift the trophy.”

It was a precious triumph for Sundowns not only as it was their first African title. It completed for ‘The Brazilians’ a fairytale triumph, given they had been eliminated in the preliminary rounds. Sundowns then dropped into the second-tier Confederation Cup from which they were also eliminated but were handed a berth back in the group phase of the Champions League when the Congolese club AS Vita Club were found to have fielded a player supposed to be suspended after a red card.

Sundowns took their second chance with gusto and dominated their group, including beating Zamalek both home and away in July.

In addition to the title, Sundowns collected the $1.5 million (1.38 million euros) money prize. They also became the first South African club to represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup, to be held in December in Japan. The tournament, which features the champions of each continent, including UEFA Champions League winners Real Madrid, will take place between 8-18 December.

“It was an amazing journey but now we are the champions of Africa,” Sundowns Zimbabwe striker Khama Billiat told cafonline after the match.”We look forward to Japan and facing the best clubs in the game. It is going to be an absolute pleasure.”

Winger Keagan Dolly added: “We knew it was going to be difficult because Zamalek are a great team with some outstanding individuals. Some people will say we were lucky to get a second chance after being eliminated, but I believe we deserve to be African champions.”

Zamalek were fighting history as well as Sundowns. There was only one club -- Mouloudia Alger 40 years ago -- ever previously able to overturn a three-goal deficit after the first leg of the final.

Sundowns became only the second South African outfit to win Africa’s top club prize, some 21 years since Orlando Pirates achieved the feat.

Zamalek are five-time African champions but have suffered a drought since they last had success in 2002.

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