With president Patrice Motsepe watching on from the stands at the Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria, Egypt, Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper Denis Onyango stood out as the Brazilians sealed their spot in the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League, where they will now face Wydad Casablanca yet again.
Despite losing 1-0 against Al Ahly on Saturday evening, the 5-0 victory at the Lucas Moripe Stadium a week earlier had all but guaranteed the South African side a place in the last four, though there was still work to be done.
Onyango proved once again why he is Africa’s undisputed No.1 as he pulled off some breath-taking saves to deny a determined Al Ahly.
The home side started the game with incredible intensity knowing that they had to put more than five goals past Onyango to have any chance of overturning the first leg heavy result of the quarter-final fixture in Atteridgeville.
Our goalkeeper was called into action straight from the kick-off when striker Walid Azarou tried to sneak in past defenders Wayne Arendse and Ricardo Nascimento, but Onyango was on hand to make the save and force a corner kick.
A few minutes later, the same Azarou went tumbling down in the box looking for a penalty following a tussle with right back Anele Ngcongca, but referee Bakary Gassama from Gambia stood firm.
Al Ahly were inches away from getting a breakthrough in the 14th minute when midfielder Amr Al Sulaya’s curling effort came off the woodwork. But they did not stop searching for that opening goal that they hoped would open the floodgates for more as they chased an emphatic five-goal deficit.
It was Hussein El Shahat who tested Onyango later in 34th minute with a powerful effort from range, but the Ugandan shot-stopper was alert to prevent the ball from going into the back of the net.
Junior Ajayi thought he’d finally broken the deadlock three minutes into the second half, but the goal was flagged for offside – much to Al Ahly’s irritation. Onyango had made the initial save from Azarou’s attempt and Ajayi followed up on the loose ball for what he thought was the opening goal.
Azarou did eventually beat Onyango with a flying header in the 68th minute, connecting well with a cross from winger Ramadan Sobhi – but even he knew it was perhaps too little too late.
That, however, didn’t stop Al Ahly from pressing Sundowns, who were hardly given a sniff at goal at the other end and were without talisman Gaston Sirino. Oupa Manyisa stepped in as his replacement.
Al Ahly, the eight-times champions were eliminated on a 5-1 aggregate score, setting up Sundowns with a semi-final fixture against Wydad, who finished above the Brazilians in Group A of the competition last month.
The first leg will be played away in Morocco, with Downs having the advantage of hosting the second next early month.
How Downs lined up
Onyango, Ngcongca, Arendse, Nascimento, Langerman, Mabunda, Kekana, Morena, Zwane (Lakay 81′), Manyisa (Soumahoro 72′), Maboe (Mahlambi 62’).