Even in defeat, the football gods smile on Mamelodi Sundowns

Mamelodi Sundowns’ Khuliso Mudai fights Cheick Oumar Fofana of TP Mazembe for the ball during Saturday’s Caf Champions League match

Mamelodi Sundowns’ Khuliso Mudai fights Cheick Oumar Fofana of TP Mazembe for the ball during Saturday’s Caf Champions League match at Stade TP Mazembe in Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo: Weam Mostafa/BackpagePix

Published Dec 4, 2023

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Beaten but still on top.

That was the story for Mamelodi Sundowns as they suffered their first CAF Champions League defeat in 17 matches after a 1-0 loss at TP Mazembe at the weekend.

The Brazilians’ quest for a second title in the continent’s premier club knockout competition looked to have been dealt a blow when Rulani Mokwena’s team lost in Lubumbashi. But then later on in the day, Nouadhibou of Mauritania pulled off a shock 2-0 win over Egyptian outfit Pyramids, despite being reduced to 10 men after Demini Saleck’s sending off.

The results meant that all four teams in Group A are on three points, with Sundowns top of the table via a better goal difference before they host bottom-placed Pyramids at Loftus Versfeld on Sunday.

The group remains wide open with the initial thoughts that Nouadhibou were the group’s whipping boys smashed to smithereens, courtesy of that stunning defeat of the much-vaunted Pyramids, who had beaten Mazembe in their opening match.

Sundown would not be perturbed, especially because though they lost on Saturday, they had played very well and could actually have won the match – such were the opportunities they created.

They had two shots rattle the woodwork and a few other opportunities that were thwarted by the quick thinking and fleetfooted Mazembe goalkeeper Aliou Faty.

Mokwena had a post-match verbal jostle with the Congolese media after one of them dared to suggest the Brazilians had not done much to win.

“We came here to lose the match?” Mokwena responded. “What do you mean we were not involved to score?

“Themba Zwane hit the crossbar in the first half. Sailor (Khuliso) Mudau hit the upright in the second half. I mean, I don’t understand.

“You want to tell me we came here to lose the game?

“That’s very, very disrespectful. We don’t work hard and put so (many) hours to come and lose a football match. I find your question a little bit disrespectful.”

Mokwena’s irritation was understandable given that he has worked hard to turn Sundowns into a continental force, who only a few weeks ago were crowned the inaugural African Football league (AFL) champions via victory over Wydad Casablanca.

Since taking sole charge of the coaching role he had previously shared with Manqoba Mngqithi and Steve Komphela, the 36-yearold coach had only lost once (to Stellenbosch FC) before Saturday’s loss at Mazembe.

Though he did not win the Champions League last season, Mokwena had seen Sundowns go through the campaign unbeaten with their semifinal exit to Wydad coming courtesy of the away-goals rule. Sundowns had last lost in the competition in April last year, when they suffered a 2-1 defeat to Petro de Luanda.

The Congolese succeeded thanks to a 60th-minute goal from Glody Likonza, who took advantage of slack marking to nod a cross past goalkeeper Ronwen Williams.

But the defeat did not do too much to dent Sundowns’ chance of adding a second star above their club crest as they remain top of the table with four matches to go.

IOL Sport