Sundowns held at home by defending champions Wydad

Mamelodi Sundowns players celebrate a goal.
Mamelodi Sundowns players celebrate a goal.
Image: BackpagePix

With ruthless, organised efficiency holders Wydad Casablanca sucked the oxygen from the strength of Mamelodi Sundowns - their attacking creativity - to earn a point in Atteridgeville in Saturday night's opening Caf Champions League Group C  game.

Wydad progressed past Sundowns on penalties in last year's quarterfinals, and went on to win the competition.

The classy North Africans dealt the South Africans a small blow at the opening stage of this year's group stages.

Badr Gaddarine turned in Sibusiso Vilakazi's cross for an own goal by Wydad in the second minute at Lucas Moripe Stadium, and Ismail El Haddad equalised in the 20th in this clash of continental heavyweights - the competition winners of the past two years, who will both fancy themselves to lift the trophy again come the final in early November.

A draw in the opener against the champions, clever team that Wydad are, was not the best, nor was it the worst, start for Sundowns. And they will not wait long for an opportunity to bounce back.

The newly-crowned Absa Premiership end their domestic season against Bloemfontein Celtic on Saturday, then go on the road in the Champions League with games the next midweek against against Horoya in Guinea then AS Togo-Port in Togo.

Wydad, bigger physically than Downs, are arranged with the structure of a Roman legion. They do not have Downs' skill nor niftyness on the ball, but the Moroccan giants do the basics with a precision that borders on beauty.

They were mostly defensive, of course. But when they did attack it was with a simplicity that almost mesmerised Sundowns.

The Brazilians had their chances, but were never allowed to get into a stride.

Champions League matches can be tinged by controversial officiating. Not usually against the home team, though.

Sundowns initially had their opening goal overruled. A tasty chip by Hlompho Kekana put Khama Billiat through on the left, whose low punt was pushed by goalkeeper Yassine El Kharroubi to the right, near the goalline. Sibusiso Vilakazi struck the ball back in, taking a deflection off a sliding Gaddarine.

The far side assistant-referee ruled for a corner. Consultations for almost two minutes saw Cameroonian referee Alioum Alioum award the goal.

After conceding, Wydad, in classic North African fashion, started stifling Downs like a boa constrictor.

Downs had a let-off when, from Amin Tighazoui's free-kick, livewire Mohammed Ounajem put a free header over.

Wydad equalised when Ounnajem - the left wing who gave even Thapelo Morena issues with pace - crossed and again there was a goalline issue. Sundowns left-back Tebogo Langerman thought the ball had crossed for a corner - it was kept in by centimetres - and stood rigid, allowing El Haddad to run through free and head past Denis Onyango.

The home side had a second let-off when Wydad - again through the simple but devastatingly effective passing that opened Downs a few times - on a counterattack put Brahim Nakach down the right, who blasted wide.

It seemed likely to be a tough battle for Downs to regain a lead in the second half.

Early on Vilakazi's long pass from deep on the right found Gaston Sirino running through, whose header looped past the upright.

Sundowns' tactic from the change-rooms was to turn on the skill to destabilise Wydad's structure.

A strutting movement ended with Themba Zwane shooting across the face. They pried Wydad open again as Kekana blasted wide.

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