Mamelodi Sundowns arrived back in the country this week to a heroes’ welcome, following their victory over Egyptian giants Zamalek, which saw them crowned CAF Champions League winners.
Thousands of fans turned up at OR Tambo International Airport to celebrate the historic win and bask in the glory of South Africa’s first Champions League triumph in 21 years.
No-one would have thought back in December 1995 when Orlando Pirates lifted what was then called the African Champions Cup with a shock victory over ASEC Abidjan, that we would have to wait two decades for another taste of continental glory.
Of course, there have been a couple of near misses since then, with Sundowns themselves losing in the final, ironically to the other Egyptian giants Al Ahly in 2001, and the Pirates also succumbing to the same opposition in 2013. I will incur the wrath of the Kaizer Chiefs fans if I don’t mention the fact that they have a continental title of their own.
With all the talk of the coveted star which Sundowns can now add to their logo, it is often forgotten that Chiefs did win the now defunct African Cup Winners’ Cup, when they beat the Angolan side Interclube de Luanda in 2001. In the same year, Amakhosi were also named African Club of the Year.
But let’s not digress, because this moment belongs to Mamelodi Sundows, the Brazilians or the newly christened “Bafana ba Style”. When you consider their road to glory, you can’t help but feel that this one was written in the stars.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that Sundowns knocked out of the CAF Champions League in the second round by the club they eventually replaced in the tournament, AS Vita Club of the DRC. They had also been dumped out of the second-tier CAF Confederation Cup by Medeama of Ghana.
While parading the ABSA Premiership trophy, which they had just won back from Kaizer Chiefs, they received the news that they had been reinstated into the Champions League, after AS Vita were disqualified. So instead of heading off to sunny tropical beaches for a well-earned holiday, Sundowns found themselves back in training to prepare for the opening group game against ES Setif of Algeria. In a strange twist of fate, Setif themselves were thrown out of the tournament after crowd trouble following their 2-0 loss to Sundowns. The rest, as they say, is history.
Sundowns went on a glory run that saw them lose only once on their way to the final. Along the way, Pitso Mosimane’s men twice defeated Zamalek in the group phases, with the victory in the home tie coming via an own-goal. In an eerie case of lightning striking twice, Zamalek once again scored an own-goal in the first leg of the final.
Can you blame their club chairman Mortada Mansour for making the rather pathetic claim that Sundowns had used “magic and sorcery” to win the title? There’s a strong argument that the club from the capital were never going to be denied their moment of destiny.
However, such arguments serve only to deny the team credit for a truly gutsy performance. There is no such thing as luck; fortune favours the prepared mind. And Sundowns were definitely prepared. From the time they were reinstated into the tournament, the players played with an attitude that showed appreciation for the magnitude of the opportunity like they had been given, and that it may not come again.
With this victory, they have fulfilled the long-held dream of club president Patrice Motsepe. Finally, the hundreds of millions of rands he has pumped into the club have brought dividends. The debate about whether this is the best Sundowns team ever has been raging, but quite frankly, it is not relevant.
What is undeniable is that they have sealed their place in history. I derived great personal pleasure from Sundowns’ victory. In our September edition of DESTINY MAN, we prophesied the moment when Pitso Mosimane would complete his journey to football redemption. He has indeed claimed the last laugh, and has completed his passage: “From pariah to messiah!”