|THAT'S FINAL: Gambian referee Bakary Gassama, 37|
ONLY one man can stop Mamelodi Sundowns from being crowned champions of Africa in Egypt on Sunday. He’s a Gambian with a silver whistle called Bakary Papa Gassama.
Currently considered CAF’s finest referee, Mr Gassama also refereed last year’s African Champions League final 2nd leg and is lined up for the crunch clash between Nigeria and Algeria 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo on November 12.
He refereed at the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 and was the man in the middle for the 2015 African Nations Cup final between Ghana and the Ivory Coast in Bata‚ Equatorial Guinea.
In short, he’s the best there is, a judgement confirmed by the Confederation of African Football when he was named the continent’s best referee at the annual CAF awards last year.
When you go to Alexandria’s Borg el Arab Stadium with a 3-0 lead, as Pitso Mosimane’s Masandawana do on Sunday, a strong, unimpeachable referee is a MUST.
With Jean Claude Birumushahu of Burundi and Marwa Range of Kenya running the lines, Mosimane knows exactly what to expect.
As the KaboYellow heroes headed to Egypt, Mosimane said: “We’ve checked the referees – to see how they deal with pressure. We realise that some of the fouls the referees will deal with differently in Egypt. I’m not talking about cheating.”
There are other dangers awaiting Sundowns, who have crushed everything in their path after re-entering the tournament via the backdoor after AS Vita - who knocked them out before the group stages - were disqualified for playing an ineligible player.
Mosimane grins: “The 12th player (a capacity 40,000 crowd who were largely allowed in to the Lucas Masterpieces Moripe Stadium for half-price if they wore Sundowns colours on Saturday) played a very big part. And in Egypt it will play a very big part.
“But they understand that there will be lasers in Egypt. I told them, ‘We’ve been there with Bafana – there were lasers, nothing happened. So let’s go and play.”
And then there’s the latest twist in the modern game. Electronic death threats: “There have been messages sent via social media, to all the players - whoever has got an Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter account, all of them. They have received death threats.
“But you know those things are OK. It’s mind games. The match is eleven versus eleven on the pitch.
“The players have laughed about it. I said, ‘OK that's good. Because if they don’t talk about it maybe it could affect them’.
With Colombian striker Leonardo Castro still injured, Pitso is unlikely to make many changes to his side on Sunday night. He said on Saturday: “If we play like this nobody in the African continent can live with us.”
With a decent referee it’s hard to disagree with that sentiment. And with one eye on Zamalek’s near-failure to qualify from the semi-finals despite a four goal lead, let’s be honest. If you can’t defend a 3-0 advantage, you don’t deserve to be continental champions.
The star is loading. It's been loading since Orlando Pirates did the job in 1996. And nobody is better-qualified than Mosimane to bring it home.