Easy victors in the inaugural eight-team tournament in which they went unbeaten, the Brazilians began the group stages of the continent’s premier club knockout competition with a resounding 3-0 win over Mauritania’s Nouadhibou last weekend.
Cue high expectations from their supporters who suddenly believed a second star above their favourite club’s crest was in the offing following their success back in 2016.
But out in Lubumbashi on Saturday, Ruylani Mokwena and his men were brought down to earth courtesy of a 1-0 defeat to five time African champions TP Mazembe. Contests between the two sides have always been even and this one was no different with both sides having chances of success.
It was the home side, however, that made their chance count with Likonza scoring the game’s only goal on the hour mark of a clash Mazembe needed to win if they were to remain in the competition having lost their opener against Pyramid last week.
Sundowns had hoped to secure three points which would have meant that victory at home to Pyramids next Sunday would essentially seal their spot in the knockout. But they found it hard in the Democratic Republic of Congo where they’d been 2-1 winners over Mazembe the last time they’d visited.
Though defeated, Sundowns were not played off the field and they actually could well have scored a couple of goals if not more themselves had they been much more clinical But twice their attempts rattled the woodwork as their passing game ran with precision and they carved the opposition defence open.
Themba Zwane was the first to send the goals shaking with a shot on 38 minutes after he had coolly beaten his man and looked good to open the scoring. Then early in the second half Lucas Ribeiro followed suit with a snap shot, the Brazilian striker having also come close at the beginning of the match when beat the Mazembe defence but shot wide.
Ribeiro’s strike partner Peter Shalulile also had two opportunities when he twice found his way past the defence only to find goalkeeper Faty way too alert as he got off the line to snuff up the threat.
Mazembe generally looked threatening when they went forward but they found Ronwen Williams in uncompromising mood until Likonza found a way past the South African number one for a result that has now thrown the group wide open this early in the competition.
Disappointing as the result would be for Sundowns, they will know that victory at home against Pyramids – who played Nouadhibou late Saturday – next weekend will get them back in control of their destiny.