Al Merrikh and Mamelodi Sundowns played out a 0-0 draw in their CAF Champions League Group A match played at the Al Salam Stadium in Cairo on Saturday afternoon.
Playing in the Egyptian capital due to a lack of CAF-approved venues in Omdurman, the Red Castle started slowly but gradually built momentum and confidence.
Themba Zwane almost gave Sundowns a perfect start after he was played through on goal by Peter Shalulile at the near post but he was denied by goalkeeper Monged Abuzaid at point-blank range.
The South African side continued to press forward as the first half wore on and Khuliso Mudau initially did well to intercept a poor pass in defence from the hosts and break through the line on 18 minutes. But he ended up scooping an effort high and wide with Peter Shalulile left unmarked in the middle of the penalty area.
Past the midway point of the first half, the Red Castle put together the first attack of note and almost took the lead, with penetration down the left from Ammar Taifour teeing up Algazoli Mohamed with a simple chance. But his effort was heroically cleared by a recovering Brian Onyango – bailing out his namesake and goalkeeper Denis Onyango.
‘Downs spurned another amazing chance on 34 minutes when a poor backpass put Shalulile clear in on goal. But Elneel did well to force the Namibia striker away from a shooting position and a follow-up effort was blocked by a recovering defender.
The visitors, aside from the frustration of not capitalising on their chances, also lost Erwin Saavedra to injury, with Thabiso Kutumela replacing the Bolivian on 38 minutes. Sundowns ended the half strongly, creating several promising opportunities. But poor finishing continue to let them down, with the interval seeing the score line still blank.
Al Merrikh were much improved after the break and forced Sundowns onto the back foot for much of the opening quarter hour of the second stanza. Still, the Brazilians came closest to a goal in that period when a counter attack saw Shalulile send a snap shot just wide of Elneel’s right-hand post.
The Sudanese team side then had the ball in the back of the net just after the hour mark through a quality first touch and finish from Algazoli – something sorely lacking at both ends of the field – but the attacker was flagged offside.
The Red Castle had more energy and intensity in the final half hour of the match, putting Sundowns under pressure and feeding off the vocal support of a few dozen fans who had found their way into the Cairo venue.
However, Sundowns were able to hold firm in defence and see out a 0-0 draw – a respectable result on paper, but one which could have been so much better had they shown their usual ruthlessness in attack. This included an injury time chance for Kutumela which he pulled wide of the mark from close range.
The teams will return to CAF Champions League action next weekend, with Merrikh hosting Sudanese arch rivals Al Hilal on Friday 25 February, while Sundowns are set to be away to Al Ahly – and former coach Pitso Mosimane – on Saturday 26 February.