ESPERANCE SILENCE HOLDERS SUNDOWNS TO GO TOP
Holders Mamelodi Sundowns’ title defence took a major blow on Friday evening after suffering their first ever CAF Champions League defeat at home, a 2-1 loss to Esperance of Tunisia at the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Tshwane.
A last-minute penalty converted by Taha Khenissi was enough to give the visitors all three points after both sides were deadlocked at 1-1 from the first half.
The hosts came into the match with a depleted squad following the injury of a number of their key starters such as Khama Billiat, Hlompho Kekana and Anthony Laffor. Ivorian-import Yannick Zakri, who has been in a rich vein of form in recent times, was also unavailable.
It took just five minutes for the visitors to find the opener following a defence splitting pass that caught the Sundowns defence napping. The threaded ball found Esperance danger man, Khenissi who needed no second invitation to slot home for an early goal to relieve the nerves.
Sundowns could have levelled matters immediately after conceding when an inviting cross from Thapelo Morena was not met by any of the Sundowns players after the ball was uncleared by the Esperance defence failed to clear.
However, a burst of pace from Percy Tau in the 20th minute after pouncing on a loose ball in the Esperance half saw the skilful forward lay off a good ball to Sibusiso Vilakazi who easily tapped home from close range to make it 1-1.
“The Brazilians” took ownership of the match and almost grabbed the lead in the 32nd minute when Tebogo Langerman’s left footed strike from outside the box almost gave the home side the lead but Esperance keeper, Moez Cherifia did well to punch the ball away from danger and keep the scores level.
Khenissi was back again in the Sundowns box and gave the home side a scare just before the break when his brilliantly taken left footer from a tight angle went to the side netting after a good run from the striker.
Pitso Mosimane’s men came back into the second half determined to find the lead but seemed to lack the much-needed firepower.
A golden opportunity came for Sundowns just after the hour mark following a swift counter from the defending champions but Colombian-import, Leonardo Castro failed to control a good ball from Vilakazi, resulting in a poor attempt at goal.
With numerous chances, it was just not meant to be for the hosts as all their build ups were foiled by the Esperance defence.
The all-important goal for the visitors came in the dying minutes when substitute, Bangaly Somahorou brought down Khenissi who got up to send Denis Onyango the wrong way to give his side three valuable points on the road.
Esperance now lead Group C with seven points followed by the reigning champions who could move to third after Sunday’s match between St George and AS Vita.