Coming up against a star-studded Barcelona outfit won’t be an easy feat, but PSL champions Mamelodi Sundowns can only do themselves proud regardless of the result, writes MARSHALL GOUTS.
The five-time Champions League winners arrive in South Africa after an incredible season on the domestic front. Had it not been for their final league clash ― a nine-goal thriller, which they lost to Levante ― Barcelona would have joined an illustrious list of clubs known as the Invincibles, to have gone an entire season without losing.
Sundowns, on the other hand, have further solidified their status as the best team in the country after they secured their eighth league title, albeit coming from after their worst season under the tutelage of Pitso Mosimane.
At the time of the announcement, Barcelona were not guaranteed to bring their stars to South Africa and this raised many questions about the apparent R100 million Sundowns paid to bring the Spanish side down, but Blaugrana have since announced a number of their stars in their squad including Lionel Messi.
Added to that, Masandawana spent in excess of R120 000 in order to get their CAF Champions League clash against Horoya postponed. But then again, you know what they say about ambition, it’s priceless and less we forget, Sundowns have the backing of billionaire owner Patrice Motsepe.
In comparison to his said net worth, the money spent on the bringing the La Liga giants to South Africa is but a drop in the ocean.
— Neal Collins (@nealcol) May 15, 2018
This move correlates with Motsepe’s earliest vision of not only dominating on the domestic scene, but allowing the Sundowns brand to gain traction on an international level. The idea is to be recognised with other global brands and what better way to ‘network’ than to bring a squad full of world-beaters such as Andres Iniesta, Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele, Messi, Luis Suarez, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen and Sergio Busquets to name a few?
[📋 SQUAD] Ter Stegen, Cillessen, Semedo, Piqué, Rakitic, Sergio, Denis, Iniesta, Suárez, Messi, Dembélé, Coutinho, Paulinho, Alcácer, Alba, Digne, S Roberto, André Gomes, A Vidal, Y Mina, Aleñá (26), R de Galarreta (40) & J Cuenca (41) #SundownsBarça pic.twitter.com/DLJau3JwVI
— FC Barcelona 🏆🏆 (@FCBarcelona) May 15, 2018
Boardroom formalties aside and with the spectacle honouring the late former president Nelson Mandela and it is a win-win situtation for all parties involved. With La Liga looking to expand their footprint in Africa and Sundowns keen on global expansion, the champions-versus-champions clash in the world’s fifth-biggest stadium makes perfect sense.
Without disregarding the almost 90 000 strong crowd which is set to be in attendance, the real winner of this clash, regardless of the score will be South African football on a whole. (Many are predicting a Barcelona thumping)
Sundowns coach Mosimane could not contain his excitement when talking about the prospect of facing Ernesto Valverde’s side, but the former Bafana Bafana mentor was cautious in placing unrealistic expectations on his squad, acknowledging the magnitude of the task.
‘It’s not about beating Barca or trying to match ourselves against Barca,’ he told the club’s official website.
‘It’s just to see our organisation, the way we defend and attack. We want to see how far we are in terms of that regard because we have our own specimen.
‘It’s not about who will win. 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,’ he said.
In a World Cup year, where South Africa have yet again failed to qualify, an encounter against an almost full-strength Barcelona squad should be viewed as an acid test for South African football or serve as a yardstick to see how far we still need to go as a footballing nation.
With the 2018 World Cup on the horizon, Barcelona may decide to adopt a ‘take it easy’ approach, but with a squad of their calibre and Sundowns gunning for victory ― anything less than a thumping would be viewed as a poor result for the travellers.
Sundowns, for once, will be playing with no expectations.
Is victory even remotely possible? Based on the gap in the hierarchy, the thought shouldn’t be tangible, but if Masandawana do the unthinkable, they will have managed to momentarily bridge the gap between SA football and international football.
If Sundowns beat or draw against Barcelona, then the argument that they make up the majority of the numbers in our national team is certainly a no-brainer. Not so?
All of the best Masandawana.