- Mamelodi Sundowns finished the game with nine men
- They had a first half red card and another late in the second half
- The return tie will be played in Pretoria next weekend
Mamelodi Sundowns held on for a barren draw against holders Wydad Athletic Club in the first leg of their CAF Champions League duel in Casablanca. The South African side finished the game with nine men, but showed great tactical discipline to ensure they go back for the return tie with a chance to make the final.
Sundowns had to play with 10 men from the 42nd minute after Neo Maema was sent off with a straight red card following a VAR on-field review by the referee. They were further reduced to nine men in the 92nd minute, substitute Marcelo Allende being sent off by another VAR intervention.
Maema had been adjudged to have played dangerously after landing his studs on Amine Aboulfath’s torso as he went down from a challenge. In added time, Allende went studs high on a challenge. He was initially given a yellow card, but upon visiting the pitchside monitor, the referee upgraded the yellow to a red.
Head coach Rulani Mokwena was delighted with the result, and the fighting spirit shown by his players.
Proud of the players
“I am proud of these players for their gallant performance in very difficult circumstances. They showed incredible work rate and tactical discipline as well as adaptation to a tough situation. They need a lot of appreciation these players because they were fantastic,” the coach said.
The South Africans had started well and thought they had scored in the ninth minute when Peter Shalulile ran to a Maema through ball, but the goal was ruled out for offside by the VAR.
The tactical battle continued between the two African heavyweights and Sundowns had another chance when skipper Themba Zwane tried his luck with a shot from distance but it rolled kindly into the keeper’s arms.
In the 24th minute, the hosts had their first effort at goal when Mohamed Ounnajem drifted from the right to the edge of the box, but his eventual shot went over.
Their closest chance was off the freekick that saw Maema sent off. Yahya Attiat Allah curled in the freekick and Ounnajem flicked over the header, but Sundowns keeper Ronwen Williams made a good save.
Wydad pin Sundowns in their own half
In the second half, Wydad pinned The Brazilians in their own half, but Sundowns defended well. They were handed a sniff at goal in the 64th minute when Mothobi Mvala missed a clearance inside the box. Zouheir El Moutaraji picked the ball, but Williams made a brilliant block with his feet one on one.
In the 87th minute, substitute Hamid Ahadad should have done better when a cross from Hocine Benayada found him unmarked at the edge of the six yard box, but his glancing header was wide.
On the opposite end, Shalulile almost produced a moment of magic when he controlled a cross inside the box and tried an acrobatic kick, but the effort flew inches over the bar.
Sundowns will now head to the Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria next weekend, knowing any kind of victory will sail them through to their first final since they won the crown in 2016.