JOHANNESBURG – Lebohang Maboe cut a confident figure at Mamelodi Sundowns’ base in Chloorkop yesterday, ahead of the biggest game of his career when the Brazilians clash with Al-Ahly at the Lucas Moripe Stadium tomorrow.
Sundowns host the 40-time Egyptian champions in the first leg of the CAF Champions League quarter-finals before making the trip to Suez for the return leg on Saturday next week. This is a good opportunity for Sundowns to avenge their defeat to Al-Ahly in the 2001 CAF Champions League final - and a lot has changed since then.
The Brazilians conquered the continent in 2016 while Al-Ahly have remained at the summit of African football. The changes that Sundowns have undergone under coach Pitso Mosimane has those who are associated with the club believing that in a positive result at home against the eight-time African champions.
“I would say that it’s the quality players that we have here, that has our fans believing that we can beat Al-Ahly,” Maboe said.
“The club has done well in bringing a lot of talented footballers here. We have a very good bunch of players - we strongly believe in our abilities, and if we play our normal game, I don’t believe that there is any team that can stop us. Everywhere we go in the continent we find a Sundowns’ T-shirt which shows the type of team Sundowns is and how it has grown in the last couple of years.”
Maboe has made a seamless transition to life at Sundowns since relocating from Maritzburg United in August. In less than a year, he has gone from a promising talent to a bright star playing at the highest level with Sundowns and will probably go to Egypt with Bafana Bafana for the Africa Cup of Nations.
“Knowing the person I am, and believing in my abilities - yes I did (believe that I would make a smooth transition to life at Sundowns),” Maboe said.
The 24-year-old’s numbers are impressive: In 22 league matches he has scored eight goals and has had five assists. That’s far more than the paltry two goals he scored at the Team of Choice in 29 league matches.
“I have been doing pretty well, but it’s not up to me to judge that (I should be contender for Footballer of the Season),” Maboe said. “All I can say is that I have been doing well with the team, yeah (I should be a contender). I still have a lot to do - I have more to offer. I need to be more clinical in front of the goal, take the right decisions at the right time.
“I do feel like I have done well in my first season here.”
The Egyptians will offer Maboe a sterner test than any opponent he has come up against thus far.
Al-Ahly’s business is winning, and business has been good for the Confederation of African Football’s Club of the Century.
“This is going to be the biggest game of my career,” Maboe said. “I feel like I am doing great here - doing pretty well. I am happy with my progress, because coming here I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s a challenge that I was looking forward to.
“Here I am now, playing for the national team - something that I have been looking forward to for so many years. I am glad that I am now starting to find my feet.”