The first leg of the CAF Champions League semi-final is upon us! Pitso Mosimane’s Mamelodi Sundowns side travel to take on Zambian giants, ZESCO United, with nothing less than victory in mind. Downs have lacked the support of the PSL, after they refused to push back their fixtures. However, that will not demoralise Pitso’s side. The Brazilians are oozing with confidence and will come guns blazing at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium.
In their way, though, is a ZESCO side who are undefeated in all of their Champions League home matches. This promises to be a mouth-watering match-up, but just who will have that extra cutting edge to push for victory?
CAF Champions League | Saturday 17 September | Levy Mwanawasa Stadium | 15:30
To Win (90 Mins)
ZESCO Utd 29/20 | Draw 2/1 | Mamelodi Sundowns 19/10
ZESCO United, who are seen by many as outsiders for CAF Champions League glory, will have every right in believing that they have what it takes. The Zambian outfit will be hoping to make it fifth-time lucky in the tournament, after falling short in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2015.
This will be the furthest that ZESCO have made it in the tournament, but they will look to take one step closer against a Sundowns side jam-packed with fixtures. Team Ya Ziko are a side not to be underestimated after strolling past the group stages and into the next round.
ZESCO have played the Brazilians just once before, in a friendly match where they suffered a 3-1 defeat back in 2014. George Lwandamina, who is also coach of the Zambian national team, will know that this is a much stronger Sundowns side than in 2014 and they will need to be at their brilliant best.
Kenyan striker Jesse Were has been a star performer for Team Ya Ziko so far. His presence in the air will be a massive threat to the Downs backline. His also quick off the turn, making it even harder to man-mark him. Were has four goals so far in the tournament for ZESCO.
Their highest goalscorer, though, is a DR Congo international – Idris Mbombo, who has five goals to his name. Together, the strike force will cause all sorts of headaches to Pitso’s men. If they are in the mood, Downs could be in for a rude awakening.
Despite being jam-packed with tons of domestic fixtures in the month of September, Sundowns will be well prepared for their CAF Champions League semi-final clash. Before this, Downs will battle it out against Maritzburg United in the ABSA Premiership. Mosimane is likely to play around with a second-string side in midweek, with the CAF Champions League the club’s main priority.
One player who is certain to be welcomed back into the starting line-up is Thabo Nthethe. The central defender missed out against Chippa United in the MTN8 last weekend due to a suspension carrying over from the game prior.
Nthethe at the heart of defence, along with Wayne Arendse has proved to be formidable for Downs in recent times. Pitso is likely to stick with the duo at centre back, after Ricardo Nascimento didn’t make the squad for their semi-finals. Sundowns will also be without new signing Yannick Zakri, who is cup-tied following his move from ASEC Mimosas. Another player who is cup-tied is Sibusiso Vilakazi.
You think of all the absentees and wonder if Sundowns have a chance. In fact, they made it this far into the competition without any of the above-mentioned stars. Players like Khama Billiat, Keagan Dolly, Hlompo Kekana and Leonardo Castro have all been instrumental in Downs’ success so far. The latter, though, is ruled out with an ankle injury and will take no part in Bafana Ba Style’s busy schedule.
That means that Percy Tau, who has been unstoppable off the bench this season, could earn a starting berth in the absence of Castro, with Billiat the player likely to move to a more central position. Tiyani Mabunda has also been added to Sundowns’ squad, offering that extra tenacity in midfield.
Dolly and Tau are likely to cause the ZESCO defence the most problems on the wing, with Billiat roaming around in a false nine position.
Verdict: Draw (2/1)
ZESCO United have been impressive in Zambia so far in the Champions League, having gone undefeated so far. They have, however, conceded in all of their home matches, leaving Sundowns’ attack licking their lips at the ZESCO backline. A tight affair is certainly expected, but Downs are tipped to come home with a point.
Written by Jesse Nagel @Hollywoodbets.