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Sundowns Fall Short In Tight First Leg Against ES Esperance

  • April 20, 2024
  • 3 min read
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Sundowns Fall Short In Tight First Leg Against ES Esperance

Mamelodi Sundowns suffered a narrow defeat to ES Esperance in the first leg of their CAF Champions League semi-final clash at Stade Olympique Hammadi Agrebi in Rades on Saturday night.

Brazilian striker Yan Sasse’s first-half goal proved to be the difference, catching the Sundowns defense off guard and giving Esperance a slender advantage heading into the second leg at Loftus Stadium next Friday.

Despite dominating possession, the 2016 champions were wasteful in front of goal. Thembinkosi Lorch and Themba Zwane both missed clear-cut chances from close range.

Mothobi Mvala nearly equalized in the second half with a powerful long-range effort that Esperance goalkeeper Amellah Memmiche tipped over the bar. Sundowns also thought they had opened the scoring through Zwane in the first half, but the goal was correctly ruled offside.

The high-quality encounter showcased the talent on both sides, as expected at this stage of the competition.

Adding further intrigue to the tie, FIFA announced before the game that a Sundowns victory would secure their qualification for next year’s FIFA Club World Cup in the US due to the competition’s pathway system. However, they still have a second chance to qualify next week if they win the overall tie.

Sundowns controlled much of the first half, with Lorch setting up Zwane for a seemingly good opportunity. However, the former Orlando Pirates player was flagged offside before crossing to his skipper.

The visitors then conceded possession in their own half, leading to a momentary scare as an Esperance shot rattled the post, with Divine Lunga clearing the rebound off the line.

Esperance found the breakthrough shortly before halftime through Sasse. The Brazilian initial attempt was blocked by Ronwen Williams, but the ball rebounded back to him, allowing him to swivel and score the opening goal.

A noticeable imbalance in Sundowns’ attacking play emerged, with Lunga on the left not providing the same attacking threat as Khuliso Mudau on the right.

Despite this, Sundowns squandered two more golden opportunities. First, Lorch scooped his shot over the bar after being set up by a clever turn from Lucas Ribeiro Costa. Then, Zwane hack-heeled to Lorch, but his powerful strike sailed just wide.

Zwane also had a late chance to salvage a point but was denied by a good save from Memmiche.

This defeat ends Sundowns’ 21-game unbeaten run. However, with the second leg at Loftus to come, a narrow loss provides a glimmer of hope for the South African giants, who should have Teboho Mokoena fit.

This was Sundowns’ fifth trip to Tunisia, and they are still searching for their first victory in the North African nation.

Picture courtesy of CAF

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Robin-Duke Madlala

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