Mamelodi Sun-downs head coach Pitso Mosimane is known to wax lyrical about how his side have figured out north African opponents in the CAF Champions League.
The former African champions backed this statement up with yet another victory over USM Alger of Algeria at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria yesterday.
The win secured Sundowns a place in the quarterfinals of the premier continental club competition, which they won in 2016.
Mosimane’s side also preserved their long unbeaten run at home in this tournament.
The Brazilians have not lost a Champions League fixture at home in 17 games, and brushing aside the Algerians tightened the Tshwane giants’ grip on the summit of Group C.
Sundowns have 10 points in a pool that includes Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and Angola’s Pedro de Luanda, who played late yesterday.
Having lost 1-0, courtesy of a Hlompho Kekana solitary goal a fortnight ago, the Algerian champions came to Pretoria intent on keeping their opponents at bay with their defensive approach. However, Sundowns attackers had other ideas and they exploited the small spaces well.
Central to their probing moves was the collective intelligence of Themba Zwane, Sibusiso Vilakazi and Gaston Sirino, with Thapelo Morena’s strong forays from the wing also supporting Sundowns’ game.
It was almost predictable that the home side would score first.
Vilakazi was denied twice by Alger’s goalkeeper Mohamed Zemmamouche in the opening quarter, but the Bafana Bafana midfielder eventually hit the target when he struck at the stroke of half-time.
Morena had given his side the lead with a thunderous close-range strike 36 minutes into the game.
Vilakazi’s goal came at the right time as it immediately cancelled Alger’s equaliser – a headed effort by Aymen Mahious during a counter-attack just before the half-time whistle.
It was the first time Sundowns had conceded in the group stages, having kept clean sheets in their past three fixtures – the 1-0 win over the Algerians a fortnight ago, the 3-0 hammering of Angolan side Pedro in November and the goalless draw against Wydad.
While the goals came thick and fast in the closing stages of the opening half, the preceding period lacked spark.
Somehow, sporadic attacks from the visitors did not put the home crowd at ease and their fears were confirmed when Sundowns conceded a penalty with five minutes remaining.
However, the miss from the spot kick by Mohamed Meftah sent a wave of relief across Loftus as the Brazilians hung on to the precious points.
With another knockout stage qualification in the bag – Sundowns’ fourth in five years – Mosimane and his team will now break from the Champions League programme until their next outing against Pedro in Luanda late next month.
Their final group fixture against Wydad in Pretoria is pencilled in for early March, which will most likely decide who wins the group to be seeded in the draw for the Last 8.
Sundowns, who were held to a goalless draw by fellow Absa Premiership title hopefuls Bidvest Wits on Tuesday, will resume their domestic programme on Wednesday.
The defending champions face Orlando Pirates in an epic encounter in Soweto, where they will be eager to keep within striking distance of log leaders Kaizer Chiefs, who host Cape Town City at FNB Stadium this afternoon.
Meanwhile, Wits also have a continental assignment to take care of as they continue to search for their first win in the group stage campaign in the CAF Confederation Cup.
The Clever Boys face Al-Nasr of Libya – also winless in three games – at a neutral venue in Egypt today.