Heartache for Sundowns in Africa campaign

Mamelodi Sundowns crashed out of the African Champions League despite beating Sudan champions Al-Hilal 1-0 at Atteridgeville’s Super Stadium in a hard-fought third-round, second-leg tie on Sunday.

There was no score at half-time.

Al-Hilal won 4-3 on aggregate.

Trailing 4-2 from the first leg played in Khartoum two weeks ago, the South African champions had to win 2-0 to go into the quarterfinals.

But despite controlling both halves and creating enough goal-scoring chances, Downs failed. The under pressure Al-Hilal some how managed to survive and end Downs’ and club president Patrice Motsepe’s dream of conquering Africa.

Al-Hilal irritated the home crowd by the continual time wasting and gamesmanship in the second half. Goalkeeper Elmuz Mahjoub was finally yellow-carded by Eritrean referee Emmanuel Eyob in the 84th minute for time-wasting tactics.

Sundowns were all over their visitors in a one-sided opening half.
They created four decent chances to the single goal-scoring opportunity that Al-Hilal carved out in the opening period.

Downs impressed the 6 000-plus crowd that enjoyed a warm Pretoria Sunday afternoon with their patient build-up, and were unlucky not to have gone into the break at least a goal to the good.

Al-Hilal were content to soak up the pressure and defend their two-goal lead. It was obvious that while Downs enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, they would need something special to unlock the visitors’ tight defence.

Lerato Chabangu headed past the Sudanese upright after 11 minutes. That was the sign of more attacks to come.

Two minutes later veteran Zimbabwean striker Peter Ndlovu rolled back the years by waltzing past two defenders, but his shot went straight to grateful Al-Hilal keeper Mahjoub.

Al-Hilal’s only attempt at scoring came through a shot from striker Kelechi Osunwa in the 18th minute, which Downs keeper Brian Baloyi did well to fist away for a corner.

Ndlovu again showed that he still has the skills that made him a star with English clubs Coventry City, Sheffield United and Birmingham City when he lost his marker in the 37th minute, but again was foiled by the alert Mahjoub, who managed to smother the 35-year-old’s close-range shot.

Two minutes later Downs winger Josta Dladla had the crowd on their feet when he thudded Papi Mungomeni’s cross fractionally wide of the post.

The pressure paid off in less than two minutes of the restart when Downs thundered forward. Surprise Moriri got the breakthrough when he beat Mahjoub with a shot from inside the penalty area.

The goal shook the Sudanese champions, who dropped their negative system and adopted a more positive approach.

Baloyi came the rescue on the hour mark when he brilliantly stopped Mohamemed Tahirosman’s pile-driver. From the rebound Saif Masawi ballooned the ball wide of the Downs goal.

Then Masawi wasted another chance in the 69th minute when he tried and failed with a bicycle kick from inside Downs’ danger area.

Downs coach Trott Moloto then went for broke when he took of defender Mungomeni and brought on Uruguayan striker Bryan Aldave and played with three strikers from the 72nd minute.

But despite playing the better soccer, Downs failed to get the all-important second goal that would have given them a win on the away-goal rule and a place in the quarterfinals of Africa’s most prestigious club competition.

Al-Hilal nearly equalised late in the game. With Downs doing all the attacking, Tahirosman found himself with only Baloyi to beat deep into injury time, but the Al-Hilal striker blasted over the crossbar.—Sapa

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