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Mamelodi SundownsMamelodi Sundowns
BarcelonaBarcelona
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When Barcelona were last in South Africa ...

Barcelona will make a whistle-stop visit to Soweto to face Mamelodi Sundowns at the FNB Stadium tonight, but this will not be the first time the Catalan giants have appeared on South African shores.

Their arrival for a match in celebration of the centenary of the birth of former South African president Nelson Mandela has been met with feverish excitement by local fans, with just over 80 000 tickets sold within days of them going on sale.

There were similar scenes when Barcelona made a visit in 2007 at the invitation of Sundowns' billionaire owner Patrice Motsepe, who had long made known his admiration for the Spanish giants and jumped at the chance to have his name up in lights.

Eleven years ago it was all about Brazilian legend Ronaldinho, while this year Lionel Messi is the focus for South African fans ... and no doubt some of the Sundowns players.

Messi had just had his breakthrough season at Barca last time round, netting 17 goals in 36 appearances, but he was still seen as an emerging player and all eyes were on Ronaldinho.

The match was played at Loftus Versfeld -- three years later the scene of Bafana Bafana's 3-0 loss to Uruguay that scuppered their 2010 FIFA World Cup second round hopes -- and it was a surprisingly open and intense fixture for what was a game played early in the pre-season for both sides.

Barcelona were led by Dutch coach Frank Rijkaard and also included Cameroon great Samuel Eto'o, Brazilian-born Portuguese international Deco and defender Carles Puyol.

Sundowns led inside two minutes through stalwart forward Surprise Moriri, and held that advantage through most of the match before the visitors found an equaliser.

Ronaldinho's free-kick was only punched half-clear by Sundowns keeper Calvin Marlin, and Santiago Ezquerro turned the loose ball home as it came back into the box.

The forward had a stellar career at Athletic Bilbao, but never quite cut it in three seasons with Barca, largely hindered by the emergence of Messi.

Ronaldinho was instrumental in the Barca winner too, as he laid a pass on for youth academy product Marc Crosas, who buried the ball.

Crosas never played a La Liga game for Barca and is most well known for a three-year spell with Glasgow Celtic.

The Sundowns players were more than a little star-struck; something that is unlikely to be the case on Wednesday as coach Pitso Mosimane will demand professionalism and that they do not feel inferior to the Spaniards.

Towards the final whistle, a number of The Brazilians started sidling up to Ronaldinho, eager to grab his shirt as the referee blew.

Sundowns players were quick to look for selfies against their star-studded opponents, while the teams celebrated together on the podium as Puyol lifted the trophy that had been handed over on the night.

With Barcelona only set to arrive in Johannesburg this morning and fly out again tonight, there will be little time for fanfare outside of the fixture.

But the razzmatazz around the game is sure to be huge as Motsepe flexes his financial muscle to show that he, and not SAFA president Danny Jordaan, is arguably the most powerful man in South African football.

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