Mamelodi Sundowns must avoid banana peels as they chase another African dream

Mamelodi Sundowns head coach Rhulani Mokwena barks out instructions on the touchline of a match.

Mamelodi Sundowns head coach Rhulani Mokwena. Picture: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Published Nov 26, 2023


The reigning African Football League (AFL) champions Mamelodi Sundowns will kick off their ninth successive campaign in the Caf Champions League group phase today against this season’s surprise package, FC Nouadhibou from Mauritania.

The club, from the seaside city of Nouadhibou, the Northwest African nation’s second-largest metropolis, is an unknown entity, but they have pulled off some famous victories, including a 3-0 win over Real Bamako in the qualifying stages of this competition.

Bamako, of Mali, have already played the Champions League 10 times, and Nouadhibou three times, although they never progressed beyond the preliminary round.

The clash at Loftus Versfeld today (starting at 3pm) will be Sundowns Group A opener. The Brazilians have always had sound starts to their group campaigns and today should be no exception.

Sundowns have finished in the top two in the group standings in the last five editions of the competition and therefore qualified for the quarter-finals.

The Group A opener was played in Cairo, Egypt, on Friday evening, and former champions TP Mazembe were surprised by Egypt’s Pyramids, who have now emerged as the group’s pace setters.

South African Fagrie Lakay scored the match winner for Pyramids in their 1-0 victory.

As usual, Sundowns coach Rhulani Mokwena has researched his opposition well, and he pointed out that the Mauritanians have won their domestic league title 11 times.

“Nouadibhou are a team with pedigree. Most of their players play in the national team. They are a team that has dominated the league in that country,” said Mokoena, who shared his disappointment that two of his players picked up injuries while on duty with the national team Bafana Bafana.

Aubrey Modiba and Mothobi Mvala played in the 2023 Fifa World Cup qualifiers against Benin and Rwanda. They are not fit to play today.

“I am a bit disappointed because Modiba came back with an injury,” said Mokwena.

“The information I have is that there was already pain and he still had to play two matches for 90 minutes.

“Modiba might be out for a little bit, and Mothobi also came back from Bafana Bafana with an injury. It was a worry because I didn’t have him on the pitch on Friday, which was the first session for the Bafana Bafana players.”

“From a periodisation perspective, it is difficult because we gained some players like Lucas Ribeiro, Peter Shalulile and Sipho Mbule, which is nice, but at the same time we have also lost Modiba and Mvala.

“We tried to give some rest time to the players so that they can spend time with their families because we have been on the road for a long time.

“We also gave time for our medical department to continue with their work.”

Last season, Sundowns had a great 5-2 win over Al Ahly in their fourth group game to make sure of their progress to the play-offs.

It was all going to plan as they crushed Chabab Belouizdad in the quarterfinals 5-2 on aggregate and they followed up a hard-fought goalless draw with Wydad in the first leg of the semifinals.

But by conceding two goals at home in the return in another draw, Mokwena’s team were eliminated on the away goals rule.