Pretoria, South Africa | AFP |
Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa moved closer to a fairy-tale CAF Champions League title with a 3-0 home victory over Zamalek of Egypt Saturday in the first leg of the final.
Liberian Anthony Laffor and Tebogo Langerman scored in the first half of a lively match watched by a capacity 30,000 crowd at Lucas ‘Masterpieces’ Stadium on the outskirts of Pretoria.
The home team moved three goals ahead less than a minute into the second half when Islam Gamal conceded an own-goal on an uncomfortably hot afternoon for the players.
Continental success for the South African outfit owned by mining magnate Patrice Motsepe will complete a remarkable turnaround this year in the premier African club football competition.
Sundowns were eliminated by V Club in the final qualifying round last April only to be reinstated when the Democratic Republic of Congo side were disqualified for using an ineligible player.
The Pretoria team went on to defeat five-time African champions Zamalek narrowly at home and away in the group stage, but taking a three-goal lead in the final exceeds their wildest dreams.
Should Sundowns be crowned champions after the return match in Alexandria next Sunday, they will become only the second South African winners of the competition after Orlando Pirates 21 years ago.
History favours Sundowns as just one club, Mouloudia Alger of Algeria in 1976, have overcome a three-goal first-leg deficit in a final.
“It is essential that we keep our feet on the ground,” warned Sundowns coach and former South Africa striker Pitso Mosimane as his players celebrated with the crowd.
“I have been in football too long to take anything for granted. We should remember that Zamalek scored four goals at home against Wydad Casablanca of Morocco in the semi-finals.
“What a beautiful sight this is,” he added, referring to a singing, dancing crowd that had crammed into the rudimentary venue west of Pretoria.
“These wonderful supporters are enjoying history — this is the first time a South African club have won the home leg of a CAF Champions League final.”
Sundowns quickly stamped their authority on the game and Laffor scored with a thunderous shot past Ahmed El Shenawy on 31 minutes after a millimetre-perfect Hlompho Kekana through ball.
Langerman doubled the lead with a cross-cum-shot that dipped behind El Shenawy into the far corner of the net off the post.
When Gamal turned another cross-cum-shot, this time from Percy Tau, into his net, the record five-goal winning margin for the first leg of a final appeared in danger of being eclipsed.
But Zamalek did not wilt in the heat and 1,520-metre (4,995 feet) altitude and dominated second-half territory and possession while rarely testing Sundowns goalkeeper Denis Onyango.