Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa on Saturday thrashed Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) champions Lobi Stars of Makurdi in a CAF Champions League group game played in Pretoria.
Goals by Thapelo Morena, Themba Zwane and Lebohang Maboe not only saw Mamelodi Sundowns exact revenge on Lobi Stars courtesy of a 3-0 win, but also confirmed their place in the CAF Champions League quarterfinals.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Lobi Stars had defeated South Africans Mamelodi 2-1 in the CAF Champions League group stage opener at the Nnamdi Azikwe Stadium, Enugu.
The Nigerian team fought back from a goal down to win the first Group A game.
With a place in the next round of the competition at stake, Sundowns hosted Lobi Stars in the penultimate game in Group A at the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Pretoria.
NAN reports that Sundowns headed into the game level on points with Wydad Casablanca and Asec Mimosas on seven, but a win was enough to book their passage into the knockout round.
On the other hand, Lobi Stars were fighting for their lives in the competition and were looking to do something they have not done so far in the 2019 edition of the tournament – win a game away from home.
As expected, both teams were going for the kill and Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane asserted this by naming an attacking line-up filled with experience.
Ricardo Nascimento and Wayne Arendse returned to the starting XI after sitting out their side’s domestic clash against Cape Town City on Tuesday. However, it was upfront where Sundowns looked to make a statement from the onset.
Having netted 23.5 percent of their goals within the first 15 minutes, Sundowns added to that statistic as Morena, who was another one of the Tshwane giant’s returnees, broke the deadlock with two minutes played.
Gaston Sirino subsequently registered his third assist of the tournament as he played a splendid ball into the path of the full-back, who made no mistake from close range in the 38th minute.
Sundowns had Lobi Stars under the crush thereafter as they looked to give themselves a cushion and Anthony Laffor forced Lobi Stars’ keeper Olufemi Kayode into one of many saves on the night, this time courtesy of the Liberian’s rasping effort from range.
Meanwhile, another one of the Tshwane giant’s changes coming into the game was Denis Onyango, who returned from a hamstring injury.
The Ugandan did not have to wait long to be in the thick of things as he produced a fantastic save to deny Alimi Sikiru, who had scored two goals for Lobi Stars prior to the game.
While Sikiru’s initial effort was denied by a moment of brilliance, the rebound then fell to Ezekiel Mbah, but the attacker ploffed his lines as the ball rolled past the post and out of play.
The first half certainly lived up to the hype and expectations as both sides were having a real go at each other.
Sundowns though looked comfortable and were turning on their trademark attacking brand of football.
With just under 30 minutes played the hosts should have been two goals to the good as Morena should have had his second of the night after gliding past a stagnant Lobi Stars’ defence, but his chip at the end of the move hit the cross bar and the ball went out of play.
Minutes later, Maboe came close to a goal with Sirino again leading the line of attack, but the 24-year-old’s diving header was denied by a strong hand from the Nigerian keeper.
With Sundowns looking to hurt Lobi Stars further, they threw men forward and were almost caught out themselves with 10 minutes to go in the half, but Onyango was again a thorn as he produced a fantastic save to deny an oppsition attacker from range.
But at the other end, the breakthrough was made as Lobi Stars were guilty of a mistake at the back and Zwane took full advantage grabbing his fifth goal of the campaign in the 38th minute..
Maboe joined in on the party with a goal of his own following the restart, putting Sundowns firmly in the driving seat heading into the break.
With Sundowns three goals to the good, Mosimane’s men seemed to take their foot off the accelerator in the second half especially as Rivaldo Coetzee was brought on for Tiyani Mabunda.
But as all big teams on the continent are capable of doing, Sundowns were able to transition back onto the attack with the proverbial flick of a switch, and Sirino was then denied by the busy Lobi Stars keeper.
In response the visitors threw on another heavyweight in Mathias Martins, and to Lobi Stars’ credit they did not give up without a fight even having several half-chances deep into the second half as they looked for a consolation goal in order to avoid registering their fifth game without a goal in the competition.
As the final whistle loomed, Sundowns again began to come into their own as Emiliano Tade was introduced and drafted alongside Maboe as they looked to finish strong.
Sundowns came within a whisker of a fourth but Kayode produced another fantastic save to avert what would have been an own goal, ensuring that Sundowns would only leave with a 3-0 win.
This proved enough to book Sundowns a place in the knockout stages, while Lobi Stars bowed out of the competition with a game to spare.