By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – Mamelodi Sundowns will raise their continent’s standard for the first time at the Club World Cup after becoming only the second South African club to win the African Champions League in 21 years in October.
The Pretoria-based team had actually been eliminated in the last knockout round before the group phase only to be given a slot when it was discovered AS Vita Club of the Democratic Republic of Congo had used a suspended player.
Sundowns grabbed the second opportunity with relish and romped through their group matches to top the standings and then go on and beat Zesco United of Zambia narrowly in the semi-final before dominating Zamalek in an exciting two-legged final.
The club have always held lofty ambitions of conquering the continent but coach Pitso Mosimane insists they are “ahead of schedule”.
Owned by one of South Africa’s richest men, mining magnate Patrice Motsepe, the club dominate domestically because of their spending power, able to attract the best players with record transfer fees and wage packets.
They have also looked outside the continent for Brazilian centre back Ricardo Nascimento, who played in Portugal’s top flight last season, and Leonardo Castro, a Colombian striker.
Khama Billiat, their Zimbabwean international striker, and Ugandan goalkeeper Denis Onyango are among four Sundowns players nominated among five finalists for the annual award for the best African player at a club on the continent.
The other two are South African internationals Keegan Dolly and Hlompho Kekana, who captains the side.
Coach Mosimane is a football obsessive, who has used Motsepe’s resources to build the club into the equal of any major outfit in Europe with top trainers and medical personnel and analysts to help him better prepare his team.
Sundowns are known as the “Brazilians” because they play in the same colours as the Brazil national team.
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)