Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
CHICKEN Inn didn’t only halt an awesome goal-scoring machine, which had been crushing everything in its path, but handed Mamelodi Sundowns their first defeat in FIVE months, with the Gamecocks turning on an excellent exhibition of free-spirited rebellion against the established order on Saturday.
Playing their first match in the CAF Champions League, the Bulawayo side were thrown into the deep end, pitted against the high-flying Brazilians, who had been destroying all opposition and had last tasted a defeat in both league and cup matches against Golden Arrows on September 12, 2015.
Dripping with riches, Sundowns were also recently named as the most valuable football club in South Africa, worth over R200 million, a financial colossus that has pushed Soweto giants Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates into the shadows.
The Brazilians have also flexed their financial muscle when it comes to buying the best players in the South African Premiership, and six of the 10 most expensive signings — including Zimbabwe’s Khama Billiat — have been completed by the Pretoria-based team.
Recently, they also recruited Keegan Dolly in a big money transfer, with the diminutive forward, who destroyed the Young Warriors in an African Under-23 Championship qualifier, forming a deadly combination upfront with Billiat and Colombian forward Leandro Castro, affectionately known as the Pretoria CBD.
Ahead of their showdown against Chicken Inn, Sundowns had won 17 league and cup games, drawing two matches against Kaizer Chiefs (0-0) and Polokwane City (0-0), of the 19 matches they had played since losing to Golden Arrows five months ago.
Along the way, they had thrashed bitter city rivals SuperSport United 3-1 in a Telkom Cup semi-final, hammered Kaizer Chiefs 3-1 in the Telkom Cup final in Durban, and also beaten Orlando Pirates 2-1 in a league match at Orlando Stadium.
Pitso Mosimane’s high-flying charges had been impressive on the road, winning nine of their 10 matches, and drawing the other, scoring 23 goals at an average of 2,3 goals per game, and conceding only five goals.
They had also been unbeatable in their backyard, winning eight of the nine matches they had played in that unbeaten run, drawing the other one, scoring 23 goals at an average of about 2,5 goals per game, while conceding seven goals.
But that impressive run was brought to an end by Chicken Inn, who posted a stunning 1-0 win over the Brazilians at Barbourfields in the first round, first leg tie of their preliminary round showdown in the City of Kings.
Had Sundowns beaten Chicken Inn, the Brazilians would have set a new record for a South African side as they would have stretched their unbeaten run to 20 games in all competitions, beating the 19-game run that hey set in the 2006/ 2007 season.
That run was also matched by Kaizer Chiefs in 2012.
Sundowns can still break Chiefs’ 24-game unbeaten league record if they avoid defeat in the remaining matches.
Mosimane believes his side paid a huge price for playing a tough Premiership duel against Pirates, which they won 2-1, just a few days before they met the Gamecocks.
The coach remained confident that his men, who missed Billiat, with the Zimbabwean ace being withdrawn just a few minutes before the game against Chicken Inn because of a hamstring strain, will overturn the 0-1 deficit when they meet the Gamecocks in two weeks’ time.
Billiat is expected to be fit for that game as he is set to play in Sundowns’ next league match against Golden Arrows.
“Yes, we lost the match, but the round is not lost.
We will have to do the business at home (in two weeks’ time)” Mosimane told the club’s official website.
“Even before the match, I spoke of the quality of Chicken Inn, so we knew what we were up against. We had noted that they had beaten sides like Highlanders and Dynamos.
“Khama (Billiat) complained about a tight hamstring after the Pirates match, while Debnnnis (Onyango) suffered a knee injury — that is why I did not field the two,” Mosimane said.
“Then we had to substitute Teko Modise at half time because his legs could not carry him through. Leo Castro and Keagan Dolly also struggled with the pace of the game.
“Chicken Inn looked a lot sharper than us. They sat back and waited to catch us on the counter, and we were aware of this tactic but eventually they did get the break.
“We played a whole lot more on the counter and opened up a lot as we attacked them in search of the away goal. But we just did not have the legs to sustain this.”
Sundowns also qualified for the final of the CAF Champions League in 2001 but lost to Egyptian powerhouse Al Ahly while Chicken Inn were only promoted into the domestic top-flight league in 2011. The Brazilians have also been in full throttle, given that their domestic season is in full swing, while Chicken Inn were playing their first competitive match since winning the league title two months ago.
Mamelodi Sundowns’ Record And Victims In Their 19-Match Unbeaten Run
Vs Ajax Cape Town (won 3-2); Jomo Cosmos (won 2-0); Polokwane City (drew 0-0); Maritzburg United (won 3-0); Free State Stars (won 3-1); Orlando Pirates (won 2-0); Pretoria University (won 2-1); SuperSport United (won 2-0); Chippa United (won 3-0); Bloemfontein Celtic (won 1-0); Chippa United (won 1-0); Kaizer Chiefs (drew 0-0); Maritzburg United (won 3-2), Free State Stars (won 5-2); Orlando Pirates (won 2-1); Chippa United (won 2-0, Telkom Cup); Free State Stars (won 6-1, Telkom Cuup); SuperSport United (won 3-1, Telkom Cup), Kaizer Chiefs (won 3-1, Telkom Cup final).