League champs lose out on their African dream

Mamelodi Sundowns will collect their Premier Soccer League trophy on Saturday with the sour taste of another heart-breaking defeat in African club competition fresh in their mouths.

The last league match of the season, against Platinum Stars at Atteridgeville, is followed by the trophy handover, a celebratory culmination to a long and hard campaign.

But much of the gloss will be taken off by Sundowns’ defeat on Wednesday in Ghana, where a 2-0 loss to the mediocre Medeama SC in Sekondi means they have been eliminated from the African Confederation Cup, the competition they dropped down to after being bundled out of the African Champions League last month.

Sundowns might have been the dominant domestic force but their ambitions for a long African adventure have been cut short for a second successive year. Medeama, struggling in the Ghanaian league, instead go through to the group phase on the away goals rule after a 3-3 aggregate draw.

It has proven much tougher outside the country’s frontiers for Sundowns. Given all the resources they have sought to invest in building up the club, a season of success on the home front is tempered by their costly failure on the continent.

They will take aim again next year when they compete in the Champions League for a third successive season, again with the goal of becoming one of African football’s powerhouses.

Last week’s announcement that the group phase of the continent’s two club competitions are to be expanded from eight to 16 teams puts a positive complexion on competing in the Pan-African events. That opens up a much more of exciting vista for South Africa’s representatives next year.

Bidvest Wits are also Champions League bound, whereas the Confederation Cup representatives are still to be settled.

Kaizer Chiefs, who have recorded only a single win in their past 12 matches in an astonishing slump, can still finish third if they beat Chippa United at home on Saturday in their last league game and Platinum Stars lose to Sundowns. Stars lead Chiefs by a single point going into the last day of the league season.

Third place in the final standings earns a spot in the 2017 Confederation Cup. The other Confederation Cup berth goes to the winners of next weekend’s Nedbank Cup final. Orlando Pirates play SuperSport United in the competition decider on May 28.

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