| Sundowns v Barcelona: SA soccer‘s ‘Game of the Year‘

Cape Town – You have to look at both sides of the coin in evaluating what turned out a tumultuous, high-charged spectacle in which imperious La Liga champions FC Barcelona weaved a measure of their magic while strolling to a 3-1 victory over PSL champions Mamelodi Sundowns before an estimated 80 000 crowd at FNB Stadium last week.

The game had been likened beforehand by Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde as something akin to a glorified training session – and in some respects it gave every impression of being just that.

But notwithstanding this, the occasion before the enthralled, enthusiastic and appreciative spectators was also a stimulating boost for South African soccer.

And how badly one was needed in the midst of the recent succession of embarrassing disclosures, allegations, mismanagement and in-fighting connected with SAFA and the PSL!

But a team arriving in a country 10 hours before the kick-off after a draining overnight flight and fielding 22 players in two diametrically different and unrecognisable line-ups for the two halves of a game are phenomena brazenly uncommon to major soccer matches.

But despite the Catalan giants‘ unorthodox preparation and team selection mode, they still provided Sundowns with some revealing lessons in portraying an overall extra soccer dimension, a  wider degree of  vision and pin-point precision – something they are quite capable of administering to almost every other side in the world as well for that matter.

Of more than a little relevance, therefore, was the fact that Sundowns were not disgraced in tackling their august opponents and fought valiantly for the entire 90 minutes, even if there was little doubt about the ultimate outcome following Dembele‘s thunderous opening goal in the second minute.

It was also, of course, more than a soccer game, designed  as a vehicle of  honouring what would have been the 100th anniversary of supreme icon Nelson Mandela‘s birthday, having been engineered  by Sundowns billionaire president, Patrice Motsepe, who reportedly paid Barcelona R45 million, as well as huge subsidiary expenses, to come to South Africa and transform a fanciful dream into reality.

But, to be sure, the masses who descended on FNB Stadium – whose control was once again badly mismanaged by the designated authorities, causing  a large percentage to be stranded in a state of panic outside the ground at kick-off – had only Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Phillipe Coutinho and the other Barcelona luminaries on their mind at that moment,

And, with no reflection on the likeable Messi himself, who is widely considered the greatest footballer on the planet, introducing him into the match in only the 75th minute after giving an unequivocal assurance that he would definitely be playing, constituted something that bordered on soccer fraud for those who came specifically to see him in action.

And, for all its shortcomings, the game for the proclaimed Nelson Mandela 100th Anniversary Cup still emerged  South African soccer‘s “Game of the Year”.

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