The moment South African football fans have been waiting for is upon us: This evening, world titans Barcelona FC will take on our champions, Mamelodi Sundowns.
La Liga’s kings landed in the country this morning after squeezing in one last training session on Monday night. Hundreds of fans gathered to welcome them at O.R Tambo international airport, elated to see Lionel Messi and his teammates strutting through the airport terminals.
It was confirmation in the flesh that the Catalans would not be leaving any big names at home; Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho, Andres Iniesta, Ousmane Dembélé among those to touchdown in Johannesburg.
The Argentinean magician, in particular, had some nervous-looking question marks hovering over him after he was left out of last weekend’s 5-4 league defeat to Levante — a game that scuppered the prospect of an unbeaten season at the penultimate hurdle. It’s believed, however, that he was just rested and will take to the field tonight. For how long remains to be seen.
It’s a match that’s had the entire country talking days before it was officially confirmed last Thursday.
Organising Blaugrana to come duel on South African soil has been hailed as a massive achievement for South African football from various quarters, including some of the greats of our game.
“I think that we should give credit to the guys that organised Barcelona to come,” Kaizer Chiefs legend Doctor Khumalo told the Mail & Guardian.
“I think it’s a good motivational factor for Sundowns, as a team, as a brand. It’s not an easy team to bring to this kind of environment.”
Bafana Bafana’s former star midfielder said what he is most looking forward to is the opportunity to observe the tactical nous of the world’s best up close and unencumbered.
“The least I can say about this game for me personally, is to observe slight tactical ways of doing things by Barcelona. On TV, you might not have a glimpse of the entire pitch. They’ll show you only the attacking period, not knowing what the defence does coming from a transition of attack to defence.
“Barcelona, Real Madrid and Arsenal are the teams I’ve realised you only have a couple seconds to regain possession after you’ve lost it. On TV, you don’t quite see who does what.”
The Doctor himself cause a stir this week when he said the door will always be open for a return to Kaizer Chiefs. The Soweto giants are without a full-time manager since the resignation of Steve Komphela after their Nedbank Cup semifinal exit.
For now, Khumalo happy to put his feet up at the FNB and enjoy the action. He stressed the positive effects such an occasion brings.
“It will also be good for upcoming youngsters,” he continued “Take for example my son, who will tell you more about European football. It means there’s something that those guys do that our youngsters are more focused on. The international teams I mean. It’s a motivational factor for these youngsters to see such stars in South Africa.”
The game will kick-off at 6.15pm at FNB Stadium. All tickets have been sold out.