South African club Mamelodi Sundowns are preparing to battle Zamalek of Egypt in the final of the CAF Champions League, to be played over two legs.
Sundowns’ home leg is set for Pretoria this coming Saturday, and the Brazilians, as they are affectionately known because of the colour of their kit, have selected an afternoon kick-off (3pm local time) as they hope to create an advantage over their visitors based on the conditions.
The city of Pretoria lies at an altitude of about 1,339 metres above sea level. The thinner air, higher altitude and high temperature will ensure tough playing conditions, especially for players who are used to cooler temperatures or playing at sea level.
In previous Champions League games, Sundowns have typically played at 7pm local time at the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville, but the afternoon kick-off against Zamalek means that the hot weather will add to the difficulties of playing at altitude.
Zamalek players will find this game tough. Eight of their players were involved in Egypt’s 2-1 victory over Congo and although they will arrive a few days before the encounter, the extra mileage on their legs will likely play a role in the outcome of the game.
On the surface Sundowns’ tactics appear clever, they have been training in the midday sun for some weeks in preparation for the match, while living, training and playing at altitude means that their lungs are used to the conditions. But will this translate to a win they can take to Cairo for the return leg?
We’ll find out on Saturday.