Johannesburg – Mamelodi Sundowns boss Pitso Mosimane has warned his players to respect the influence of the proverbial '12th man' when they take on Bloemfontein Celtic in the opening round of the Telkom Knockout on Sunday.
Although the Bloemfontein fans cannot match those of Kaizer Chiefs or Orlando Pirates in terms of numbers, Celtic supporters are certainly the loudest in the country, making any trip to the Free State a difficult assignment.
And with that in mind, a wary Mosimane said he was approaching the contest with plenty of respect for the home crowd, particularly as the game would be played at the Kaizer Sebothelo Stadium in Botshabelo.
“A smaller pitch is a very good environment for Celtic and it gives them a good advantage because we all know they have 'the 12th player',” Mosimane said ahead of the encounter.
“It's about how my players adapt to the full stadium and how they understand that the 12th man is important, but the 12th man doesn't play.
“On the pitch, it's 11 against 11, and it will be about how we deal with the fans mentally, in relation to the game.”
Sunday's fixture makes for intriguing reading, as Celtic lifted the Knockout trophy in November last year by edging the Brazilians in the final.
The pressure was mounting on Mosimane and his Pretoria side. The Brazilians last won a trophy in May 2008, when they beat Mpumalanga Black Aces to lift the Nedbank Cup under coach Trott Moloto.
Sundowns also failed to qualify for this season's MTN8 cup competition Ä which wrapped-up last weekend Ä after finishing 10th in last season's Premiership campaign.
Despite the negatives, Sundowns were yet to be beaten this season, stretching their run to nine consecutive games dating back to last season.
The two teams had already met once this season, with Downs claiming a 3-1 victory on the opening day of the Premiership campaign in August.
But Sundowns would be well aware that the last team to have beaten the Chloorkop side were, in fact, Celtic, who clinched a hard-fought 1-0 victory in March last year.
Since that defeat, however, Sundowns had shown glimpses of the kind of form which could see them end their five year wait for silverware.
Mosimane believed Celtic would have a point to prove on Sunday, as they looked to overturn the result they suffered against them, earlier this season.
“Clinton Larsen has warned us that we should be very careful how we step in there and I think he's right,” Mosimane said.
“I take what he said very seriously, with humility. I will be very careful because I know it's a fortress and I know you don't come back easily from there.
“They will fight and they will never accept Sundowns' last result against them, because three goals at home is not a good result for you at home.”
Mosimane, who was hired in December last year and was now in his first full season with Downs, said he was confident of a victory, provided the visitors were able to repeat the performance of earlier this year.
“We need to be ready to have the proper mental game of not being too respectful and end the result when we're there,” he said.
“But the only thing I want from my team is to match the hard work and determination of Celtic, then we should be able to do something.”
Saturday: SuperSport United v Ajax Cape Town (Lucas Moripe Stadium), Free State Stars v AmaZulu (Goble Park), Moroka Swallows v University of Pretoria (Dobsonville Stadium), Polokwane City v Kaizer Chiefs (Peter Mokaba Stadium).
Sunday: Platinum Stars v Maritzburg United (Moruleng Stadium), Bloemfontein Celtic v Mamelodi Sundowns (Kaizer Sebothelo Stadium).
Tuesday: Black Aces v Orlando Stadium (Mbombela Stadium). – Sapa