It could well have been Alex Shakoane’s funeral all over again. As it was, the mood that prevailed at Loftus Versfeld after Mthobi Mvala’s own goal was more sombre than the one at Mamelodi’s International Assemblies of God Church on Tuesday.
And perhaps with good reason too, for as heartbreaking as the popular former Public Relations Officer’s death was – the fact he had been ill for a while would have had his and the Sundowns family ready for that eventuality.
Not so with this match. This was a given, at least in Masandawana’s hearts and minds. This was supposed to be Sundowns’ procession to the continent’s ultimate match, the CAF Champions League final. This was supposed to be Rhulani Mokwena’s coronation as a top technical and tactical brain. This was supposed to be a continuation of the Brazilians’ domineering showing in this season’s campaign.
Unbeaten throughout the competition, Sundowns were supposed to make short work of the defending champions they’d held goalless in Casablanca even though the South African champions had been reduced to 10 men via red cards.
And in an arena packed with their partisan crowd, captain Themba Zwane and his troops were supposed to put a flourish on what has been a fantastic season by earning their place in the final to set themselves to add a second star above the club’s crest.
Of course it was not going to be a walk in the park. But given that they’d smashed Al Ahly and the rest of the teams who had visited, expectations were that Wydad would be added to the list of foes that fell at Loftus.
But it was not to be as the Moroccans brought Sundowns’ marauding run to such a screeching halt, that the noise was most probably felt loud and clear out in Casablanca.
An own goal by Mvala made the difference, and the big defender is sure to be kicking himself for the entire off-season and possibly the rest of his career for such a costly error.
But the reality was that Sundowns just did not play like the all-conquering team that got this far. They were particularly cagey in the first half during which Wydad did what they were expected to – wait to pounce on the break.
Things were better in the second half and when Zwane put them ahead five minutes in with a sweetly-struck shot from close range, expectations arose that the match would open up. It did not and as they failed to get that cushion goal which would have given them a breather, Sundowns were always at risk of being pegged back by that killer away goal for Wydad.
It came on 71 minutes when Ayoub El Amloud silenced the arena, and you wondered if the Sundowns players were to be snuffed too.
But they were not, and seven minutes later they regained their lead when Peter Shalulile scored with the help of a deflection and some Sundowns fans lit up firecrackers that released yellow smoke. It was celebration time surely.
Football though is fickle at the top, and until the final whistle has been blasted nothing can be taken for granted. Not that Sundowns did, although their inability to keep Wydad pressed in their own half suggested otherwise.
And they paid for it, very dearly when Mvala’s attempted clearance header found his net instead and thus snuffed out a continental dream that was fast beginning to look like a reality for all associated with Mamelodi Sundowns.
What was supposed to have been a day of celebration, what was supposed to be a day to wipe away the tears brought about by Shakoane’s death instead became an extended day of mourning.