And that’s because the Sundowns’ assistant coach knows that the status of being the defending champions comes with having a target on your back at all times, with every side you play against being highly motivated to beat you.
Sundowns’ first short term goal was to make sure that they qualified for the group stages when they locked horns with Kampala Capital City Authority of Uganda in the first round of the qualifiers in March. They did that after beating them 3-2 on aggregate.
Drawn into Group C, Masandawana had a slow start, playing to a 0-0 draw against Ethiopia’s Saint George. In that encounter, the Brazilians lacked the creative spark they are known for in the final third, with the likes of hard-working Hlompho Kekana, Khama Billiat, Teko Modise and Sibusiso Vilakazi struggling massively to unlock their opponents’ defence.
But the Patrice Motsepe-owned side soon turned the corner in their second group match, when they played AS Vita away from home. They beat the Congolese outfit 3-1 in Kinshasa, a result which sees them currently command the helm of their group table, equal on four points with their opponents, Esperance Sportive de Tunis.
Mokoena said it was crucial that they fought for their second win of the group encounters when they host the Blood and Gold at Lucas Moripe Stadium (kick-off 8pm), as that result would see them gain pole position in their fight to qualify for the next round of the competition. “It’s very important that we win this match,” Mokoena said.
“We didn’t do that when we hosted Saint George in our first group game. But, we managed to bounce back in our match against AS Vita. And that’s the beauty about working with experienced players. You can set specific targets on which matches are a must win for you guys, and which matches you should fight to avoid a defeat and settle for a draw. We went to Kinshasa with the hope of coming back with a positive result and we did that by producing maximum points there.
“Our focus is now set on pushing for a similar result against Esperance in this tie,” Mokoena added. “A win would see us standing on seven points before we travel to Tunisia for our second leg meeting against them there and we want that.
“We want to progress to the next round of this competition.” Mokoena added that several key players, such as Billiat, Ricardo Nascimento, Anthony Laffor and Kekana were still out nursing their respective injuries.
However, the assistant coach believes that the Brazilians have enough depth in their squad to grind out the desired result against the two-time Champions League winners. “Sure some of our key players, such as Kekana, Nascimento and Billiat, to mention but a few, are out nursing injuries,” Mokoena said.
“However, this is a team which knows how to grind out results when it is expected of them. We’ve got internationals in this squad and they know how to handle this type of pressure. We’ve been here before and we are led by a coach (Pitso Mosimane) who is motivated and hungry to achieve success on the continent for this club.
“And that’s what drives us as a team. That’s what pushes us (the technical staff) and these players to perform. They know the responsibility which rests on their shoulders and they also know that they always have the backing of their chairman to aspire to excel on the continent as well.”