Champions Sundowns go down to Tunisian giants Esperance
The smoke from the evening fires of Atteridgeville that permeated Lucas Moripe Stadium got in the eyes of Mamelodi Sundowns, who sleepily slipped to a 2-1 Caf Champions League defeat to Esperance Sportive de Tunis on Friday night.
Taha Yessine Khenissi scored an early opener for Esperance in the sixth minute, Sibusiso Vilakazi equalising in the 21st of this group stage game.
With a slow, tired encounter drifting towards a draw, substitute Soumahoro Bangaly commited an unnecessary foul that allowed Khenissi to slot a 90th-minute penalty to earn Esperance a valuable away win against the defending champions.
Both sides' weariness, as much as experienced Tunisian giants Esperance's solid North Africa organisational patterns, slowed the game.
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So soon after a frenetic end to a gruelling league season for both teams - though particularly Downs with their 54 games, following on 57 the past season - neither had much energy to race around the Lucas Moripe pitch.
It was a slog of a contest, to the rhythm of the Downs fans' metronomic singing throughout.
Lacking in zest, the two best teams in Group C tactically could not outmanoeuvre each other either. But Esperance still managed to sneak the three points.
Right now, as much as the result will more than likely see Esperance's win the group, Downs will not be too concerned.
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Both these teams should make, not quite canon-fodder, but not too much more either, of Ethiopia's St George and AS Vita of Democratic Republic of Congo to bag the top two spots and progress past the new, four-group format to the quarters, a new precursor to the semifinals.
Sundowns, though, may need to find a dose of intensity to ensure they do not slip further.
Downs were caught in an off-season slumber early on, allowing big striker Taha Yessine Khenissi in down then left to easily slide Esperance's opener past Denis Onyango.
Sundowns tightened up after that, notably quickening their pace winning the ball as often Esperance were caught in posession.
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The Brazilians equalised as Percy Tau was played into space down the left and had the composure not to shoot, but look for the pass inside to Vilakazi, who tapped into an open goal.
Soon after that Tebogo Langerman's swerving shot from the left edge was awkwardly parried by Esperance goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifa.
Kenissi still troubled, passing Motjeka Madisha with a strong run then shooting into the side-netting.
Madisha limped off, replaced by Bangaly, just before the break.
Downs struggled to be anywhere near as snappy in the second half.
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It took until the 70th minute for the next half-chance, on a counter-attack involving Thapelo Morena and Vilakazi, where Leonardo Castro had half a yard of space but could not connect a shot.
That was the resemblance to a chance at goal in open play in the second 45 minutes.
In the 88th, though, winger Fakreddine Ben Youssef made a run in the area, Bangaly recklessly stuck out a leg, and the Esperance player made an appropriate meal of the foul, resulting in the penalty. Khenisse struck it in to the right of Onyango.
- TMG Digital/TMG Sport