Sundowns walked into the lion’s den, pissed all over it to mark their territory and left as the new kings of Africa by winning the jungle-like CAF Champions League.
This wasn’t a football test. Sundowns’ passed that test already with flying colours by topping a group that had teams with nine titles combined in the premier club competition in the continent. Beating the most successful of those clubs, five-time African champions Zamalek, three times in a row further proved that point. The last of those wins was a 3-0 demolition in the first leg of this final.
This was a test of Sundowns’ mental strength. It started before they even arrived here when some online trolls sent their players death threats. It continued when they arrived here on Thursday and found that Zamalek hadn’t allocated them a training pitch. It went further when Zamalek threatened to go back on their word of supplying Sundowns with tickets for their travelling fans. All of that was before they even entered this coliseum.
When Sundowns eventually entered for the pitch inspection, it got worse. Cellphones, a tool that Egyptians used to overthrow Honsi Mubarak during the Arab Spring which was ignited on social media, were used as a weapon against the Brazilians last night. Zamalek fans light up this stadium with their phones at the sight of Sundowns’ players.
Those were the friendly supporters. The others used lasers, blew up fireworks that sounded like explosives and even threw missiles at them. Flares were light minutes into the match, in a part of the field that had a banner with 4-0.
Sundowns stood tall like they have been this week. When they didn’t get a venue, they found one for themselves on Friday even though it wasn’t pretty. Instead of allowing their fans to worry about travelling to Egypt and not watch their team, Sundowns’ president Patrice Motsepe took them out for lunch at the plush Four Seasons Hotel by the sea. When the players received this reception, they took pictures having laughed off the death threats. Keagan Dolly trapped one of the bottles that were thrown onto the pitch with his chest and kicked it out, still in his suit and formal shoes. Khama Billiat moved swiftly to duck one missile. “Kill them”, an Egyptian reporter shouted from the stands, laughing when the missiles were thrown.
Sundowns’ refused to die. They passed that mental test, leaving the small matter of wrapping up this game and become African champions for the first time in their history. They handled that part too, playing with intelligence and cockiness.
Pitso Mosimane’s plan was for the club to weather the storm in the first 15 minutes and frustrate the fans. It went further than those minutes. Denis Onyango played a big part at first, killing Zamalek’s momentum by slowing down the game and going down at the slightest of touches. Stanley Ohawuchi came close to scoring but did the cardinal sin of coming into contact with Onyango. Uganda’s No. 1 stole a few minutes because of that contact. Zamalek didn’t take his antics well.
The White Knight’s technical team stormed Sundowns’ bench in frustration. Sundowns stood defiant. But that time around Onyango wasn’t faking it, he was genuinely injured. Wayne Sandilands came on for Onyango just before the half-hour mark.
He quickly dusted off any cobwebs that might have crept in as the third choice ‘keeper. He pulled out a brilliant save to ensure that the first half ends goalless. The fans, whose whistles sounded like a swarm of bees, stinging to the ear, went dead silent at halftime. That silence didn’t last long, with deafening cheers after Ohawuchi squeezed the ball between Sandilands at the post. That goal literally fired up Zamalek with more flares being light on the stands and one was thrown behind the Egyptian’s goalposts in frustration. Sundowns
weren’t moved and did the business.