Sunday, 11 December 2016

IT'S THE ENDO THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT: Sundowns dreams shot down in Japan

AT FAULT: Mamelodi Sundowns Ugandan
goalkeeper Denis Onyango
FOR a delirious 45 minutes on Saturday, KaboYellow fans had every right to believe they were headed to a glorious final against mighty Real Madrid at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. Then came 45 minutes of heartbreak, a second half exposing all that is wrong with South Africa football.

The first half at the Suita City stadium was a dream. Percy Tau was rampant, Khama Billiat had a couple of chances - one from all of four yards on the slide - and Pitso Mosimane looked secure in his Champions of Africa castle with the big back door.

Hitoshi Sogahata was the villain of the piece for Sundowns, who had NINE shots to Kashima’s NIL in those fantastic first 45 minutes. Bizarrely, FIFA had captioned the scoreline “ZSC” for Masandawana (obviously they thought Egyptians Zamalek had made it!) and didn’t correct in to “SUN” until the 2nd half… and by then, the fantasy was fading.

Sogahata, who has played all his life at the Antlers, is a mature 37, he’s played four times for Japan since 1998 but 462 times for his club. Three great saves kept Sundowns goalless, and then there was THAT miss from the usually lethal Zimbabwean Billiat, who put Tau’s excellent cross wide from inside the small box.

MISTAKE! Sundowns were dubbed "ZSC"
throughout the first half by FIFA
At half-time, optimism was sweeping the nation. With the game on SABC thanks to StarSat’s last-minute climb-down on exclusive coverage, the social networks were buzzing. Pitso was a genius. Tau was a lion, Dolly was more popular than Barbie. Onyango hadn't been tested in goal.

But from the first touch of the second half, the Antlers showed the value of a good team talk, and a touch of tactical acumen.

With their wing-backs tucking in, the midfield was reclaimed by the Japanese, Pitso might have seen it before me but he didn’t react. Not until THE ENDO OF THE WORLD, with Yasushi Endo picking up a Mu Kawasaki cross and beating Sundowns’ keeper Denis Onyango.

When I say it beat him, it wasn’t a pretty sight. The Uganda player of the year and PSL goalkeeper of the season made a hash of the close-range shot, it wriggled out from underneath his writhing body and was actually put in by his own hand/head reflex movement.

Shocking, particularly with Sogahata producing a near-perfect 90 minutes at the other end.

CORRECTED! But Sundowns went in to
 a serious decline in the second half
But there was worse to come. Pitso finally threw on Zwane, but it was already too late. Then came Liberian striker Antoine Laffour when Sundowns appeared to finally realise they had to score to survive.

But there was no great urgency. No radical change of shape. The Antlers had Sundowns by the horns. In a dramatic reverse of the first half, Sundowns barely mustered a threat on goal.

And when Kanazaki added a goal of his own with the Downs defense all over the place, the sinking feeling became titanic. All the shortcomings of South African football had been ruthlessly exposed. Poor finishing, late changes, lack of fitness, tired defending and we’ll have to say it again POOR FINISHING.

We got the usual afterwards from Pitso Mosimane, whose PSL and African champions are starting to develop a habit of inconsistency in recent weeks.  

Clearly unhappy, the post-match interview was mercifully short: “We played very well against a very good team. Obviously you could see our finishing was not very good in the first half. They took their chances and we didn’t.

“Disappointed? What do you mean? It’s football. We are professionals. For us it’s a very good learning curve. They passed very well.

“We are learning, we did well, we just couldn’t finish.”

And captain Hlompho Kekana, who simply disappeared in the second half, basically respected his coach: “If we’d taken one of the chances we’d created, the game would've changed. We must take lesson out of this game.”

Lessons? Learning curves? No. The FIFA Club World Cup doesn’t come along regularly for South African football. We needed clinical finishing, decisive substitutions, a solid goalkeeper.

But hey, at least they got to Japan. They play Korea's Jeonbuk on Wednesday morning in a 5th/6th play-off game that could earn the players plenty to add to their African Champions League bonus.

FIFA are offering  $1.5m for fifth and $1m for sixth. So the difference is $500,000. R7.5m. Nearly as much as Cape Town City FC won for their Telkom KO victory against SuperSport United on Saturday.

The Antlers go on to play Nacional from Colombia, with Real Madrid likely to be their final opponents. Sundowns didn’t even get close to Cristiano Ronaldo. It's enough to make a weepy nation howl.

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