Mamelodi Sundowns put behind them the fatigue of a long season‚ a bevy of injuries‚ the disappointment of losing their local league crown last week and a hostile crowd to come away from Kinshasa on Wednesday with one of their best wins ever – a 3-1 success in the group phase of the African Champions League at the imposing Stade des Martyrs over AS Vita Club.
Having been held at home to a draw in their opening group game 10 days ago‚ this revives Sundowns’ hopes in the competition and sends out a stern warning to the other contenders that it is going to be tough to wrestle the continental crown away from Pitso Mosimane’s team.
Goals from Antony Laffor‚ Yannick Zakri and Sibusiso Vilakazi saw Sundowns to their victory but such was their quality that it could have been by a bigger margin.
Even without the likes of Khama Billiat‚ Tiyani Mabunda and Hlompho Kekana‚ Sundowns were superb as they mastered the game on the artificial turf and left the massive crowd singing their praises at the end of the game.
They now share top place with Esperance of Tunisia‚ who they host next on Friday‚ June 2‚ in Atteridgeville.
After being level 1-1 at half-time‚ Zakri and Vilakazi made sure of the three-point haul with second half goals‚ both scored by persistent pressing in the middle that forced errors out of the opponent and turned over possession.
From the start‚ Sundowns looked slick.
There was a quick inter-change of passes from Sundowns that bemused their hosts and set up Zakri for the first real chance but as he bore down on goal the angle was narrowed by the goalkeeper Bongamon Lukong‚ whose diving save denied the Ivorian a first goal for Mosimane’s team.
But in the 24th minute Sundowns were ahead with a surging movement up the left and then a cross from Percy Tau that Vilakazi missed but Laffor swooped upon with a diving header that bulleted into the back.
Laffor has been the architect of some key goals for Sundowns in the Champions League over the last year and this was among his best‚ as well as being a rare headed finish from him.
But the lead lasted only eight minutes as Sundowns were guilty of failing to close down midfielder Oumar Sidibe‚ who was teed up by Agiti Etekiama and fired home with power from some 25 metres out with a shot that Denis Onyango‚ returning to the Sundowns goal‚ did not see until it slammed into the back of his net.
Sundowns had a legitimate looking penalty appeal turned down in the 36th minute when Tau had his heels clipped and six minutes after that Zakri burst through again‚ using his pace to get past the home defence‚ but hit his shot against the crossbar‚ just inches away from restoring Sundowns’ lead.
Tau had a great chance after bursting through in the 51st minute but was denied by the ‘keeper’s legs.
But Zakri restored the lead when Lucky Mohomi won the ball and burst towards goal only to see his teammate pinch the ball from his legs and strike home.
It should have been 3-1 when Themba Zwane missed a 68th minute sitter but Vilakazi soon increased the Sundowns’ lead by again stripping their defence of the ball and hold off several challenges to score.