Final Whistle - Sundowns with one eye on Abidjan

Final Whistle - Sundowns with one eye on Abidjan
Sundowns last competed in the Club World Championship in 2016

by Staff Reporter

Friday Apr 05, 2024. 14:09

Mamelodi Sundowns’ focus this weekend will be on overcoming Young Africans in the return leg of the CAF Champions League quarterfinal, but the powers that be at the Club will also be interested in the outcome of another last-eight match playing out in Cote D’Ivoire.

The result of the match-up between Asec and Esperance can either simplify or complicate the permutations determining Sundowns’ potential qualification for the FIFA World Club Champions next year.

Sundowns versus Phil Foden and Manchester City co, or versus Vinicius Junior and Real Madrid co, or versus Harry Kane and Bayern Munich co.

That is the tantilising prospect facing Sundowns fans should their club qualify for FIFA’s rebooted World Club Championship. Thirty Two of the World’s greatest Clubs will compete for the title in America in June 2025.

It is a possibility that could be just a single result away with Sundowns’ name being thrown into the draw hat as early as Saturday night.

For that to happen, Sundowns need to beat Young Africans in Pretoria and hope Asec join them in the semifinals by overcoming  Esperance.

While that scenario is likely based on the results from the first leg (both Sundowns and Asec earning vital 0-0 away draws ahead of their home matches), there are various other routes for the South African champions to qualify should they come unstuck against the Tanzanian outfit.

Africa will send four participants to the US next year – the winners of the four Champions League competitions from 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024. FIFA took into account that one team could be a multiple winner and therefore came up with the co-efficient ranking table to determine who would be eligible to fill the four positions by team’s that were not champions of the competition over that period. This applies to all the other Confederation qualifying metrics.

Al Ahly had duly obliged, the African powerhouses winning in 2021 and 2023 to bring the co-efficient table into play.

Wydad added their name to the list by winning the Champions League in 2022, meaning going into this season’s Champions League competition two births were up for grabs – one for the winner of this year’s Champions League the other the highest-ranking team on the qualifying table.

Sundowns go into the weekend’s return leg with 94 points, while Esperance have 86 (See table below).

Based on the criteria for qualifying and their current position on the ranking, a lot has to go wrong for Sundowns not to be listed among the 32 finalists.

The ranking system works on three points for a win, one for a draw for matches in the  group stage onwards, plus three points for advancing to each stage of the knockout phase of the respective competition.

Route one is based on self-interest for Sundowns – go on to win the 2023/24 Champions League title and join Wydad and Al Ahly as automatic qualifiers.

Route two is based on the interest of others – even your most bitter rival. If Al Ahly win the Champions League title, both Sundowns and Esperance would be through. If Esperance are crowned champions, Sundowns will also be through.

Note: This will be the only time in history that Tunisians will be supporting Al Ahly’s Champions League aspirations.

Sundowns will be hoping to overcome Young African in the Champions League

Route three is based on a combination of luck and quantum physics. Sundowns need to end with more points than Esperance and they will advance. At the moment Sundowns enjoy an eight point lead, but there are too may scenarios in play to predict what the final ranking numbers would look like.

The worst-case scenario is that Sundowns get eliminated in the quarters, Esperance advance to final after winning both legs of the semis, and win the first leg of the final but end up losing to a Club that is not Al Ahly.

Make sense?

Not so fast there is even a scenario where both teams end on the same number of points.

If Sundowns lose to Young Africa, and Esperance beat Asec and draw both legs of the semifinals, but get eliminated via a penalty shootout… by my calculation (and I could be horribly wrong here) both would end with 94 points.

The criteria for determining who is the higher seed is explained by FIFA

In case of a tie, the criteria are:

1) Best individual result achieved during the qualifying period

2) Most recent best result

3) Best goal difference

4) Most goals scored

Based on the scenario above both would have been semifinaliss, but Espernace would have done it this year, trumping Sundowns semifinal appearance last year.

Not easy to digest, but lets hope Sundowns take the guess work out of it and add a second star to their kit.

But just in case things go awry in Pretoria tonight, Sundowns will be hoping Asec do them a favour 24 hours later in Abidjan and we can put away the calculators.

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