FNB Stadium is expected to be abuzz on Wednesday night as football enthusiasts cram the ostentatious venue to witness the much anticipated Nelson Mandela Centenary Cup match between Mamelodi Sundowns and FC Barcelona.
Masandawana Club spokesperson, Thulani Thuso, confirmed that tickets for the momentous clash – which would see South African champions Sundowns pitted against Spanish champions Barcelona – had been sold out by Monday.
Thuso however could not confirm if either team would be fielding their full-strength line-ups for the “friendly” match.
Both sides possess players who are second to none in their respective domestic leagues.
Both teams also have reserve players who, in terms of quality, could walk straight into any first team of the two clubs’ competition in the leagues in which they ply their trade.
Read: Squad announced for South Africa trip
Sundowns coach, Pitso Mosimane on Tuesday played down the significance of the encounter on his club’s website, saying: “It’s not about beating Barca or trying to match ourselves against Barca. It’s just to see our organisation, the way we defend and attack.”
However, if one takes into consideration the club’s track record in the last five years, Sundowns have all but dominated the South African and African footballing scene, winning two PSL titles (2015-2016 and 2017-2018), the Nedbank Cup trophy (2014-2015), the Telkom Knockout cup in 2015, the CAF champions league title in 2016 as well as the CAF Super Cup trophy last year.
In addition to this, the club was named African Club of the year in 2016, the South African team of the year in the same year and the PSL team of the season in their 2015-2016 campaign.
Barcelona’s attacking duo of Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez arrive to much fanfare at OR Tambo international airport.Picture:Chris Collingridge, courtesy of LaLiga
Footballing enthusiasts await the arrival of FC Barcelona at OR Tambo Airport.Picture: Chris Collingridge, courtesy of LaLiga
FC Barcelona players in good spirits as they land in South Africa for their Nelson Mandela Centenary Cup match against Mamelodi Sundowns Picture: Chris Collingridge, courtesy of LaLiga
Excited supporters catch a glimpse of some of the La Liga stars who will be facing Mamelodi Sundowns at FNB stadium on May 16 2018Picture: Chris Collingridge, courtesy of LaLiga
Mosimane and his troops have proved themselves both domestically and against opponents from other African leagues.
Now the Brazilians will be vying to test their class against a team that is considered one of the best in the world and one that has perfected the style of football that Sundowns themselves have become synonymous with.
Similar to their opponents, Masadawana do not just play to win, they play to entertain, displaying a piano and shoeshine style that has attracted large numbers of fans to all of their games this season.
Mosimane’s team plays from the back, with their goalkeeper, Denis Onyango, rated among the best in the PSL for his ball distribution, a trait that is shared by Barcelona’s own Marc-André ter Stegen.
Both teams are known for keeping as much of the ball possession as possible – an ability made possible by both sides’ wealth of skilful midfield players who can both attack with the efficiency of world-class strikers and defend with the competence of tried and tested defenders.
Another striking similarity is in attack. Both teams are led by pint-size strikers – Percy Tau for Sundowns and five-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi, who have terrorised opposition defences all season.
Both Tau and Messi seem to use their size to their advantage as they skilfully weave through defences.
Their proximity to the ground seems to allow them to maintain their balance as they manoeuvre through crowded defences and effectively create opportunities where most strikers seem to fail.
The two currently sit on top of their respective leagues’ top scorer tables. Tau was on 11 goals and Messi finished the season on 34 goals.
Sundowns’ consistency led them to winning the title in a 2017-2018 season that was characterised by topsy-turvy performances by the rest of the PSL teams.
Mosimane argued on the club’s website that Sundowns have got their “own way of playing” which they have “mastered”, however it will be fascinating to see which team will come up tops while employing the similar style of play.
Mosimane however seemed to have conceded even before kick-off as he said: “I think we all know who will win. We expect Barca to win, not to say that we aren’t confident but the reality has to be there. If we win, it’s unbelievable. You never know, maybe we can rise to the occasion and give them a scare. But I must be honest with you, I am so excited about the game.”