Johannesburg - Mamelodi Sundowns co-coach Rulani Mokwena has emphasized that every game in the CAF Champions League group stage is important, and that is why they won’t put all their eggs in one basket by just focusing on champions Al Ahly.
The South African kings have had a decent start in their continental group stage campaign. They amassed four points after two matches, beating Al Hilal at home before drawing 0-0 with Al-Merrikh at a neutral Al Saalam Stadium on Saturday.
The match was taken to Cairo due to political unrest in Sudan. And Sundowns felt hard-done by the draw, given that they had a dominant first half with clear chance scoring opportunities - only to be let down by poor finishing and good goalkeeping.
Moreover, a win wouldn't have only given them comfort at the top of the log in Group A, but it would have served as a huge morale booster ahead of their clash against continental champions Al Ahly at Cairo International Stadium on Saturday.
Coached by former Sundowns’ mentor Pitso Mosimane, the Egyptian giants are tipped to be the team to beat in the group albeit a disappointed start after drawing with Al Hilal away from home on Friday night in their first match in the group.
But Mokwena is convinced that it would be naïve of them to just focus on Al Ahly who are fresh from finishing third in the FIFA Club World Cup. Instead, he says they have to play to win their remaining four matches to qualify for the next round.
“We are very aware that it’s a tough group. We can never make that mistake of focusing all our attention on Al Ahly,” Mokwena said. “It’s a group where 12 points put you in a position to qualify (for the quarter-finals) as the winners of the group.
“But the reality is Al Ahly can only offer you six points. So, you’d have to fight for the other points from Al Hilal and Al-Merrikh. So, you’ve got to give them the same amount of respect in terms of attention to detail that you’d give to Al Ahly.”
For Sundowns to ensure that they run like a well-oiled machine in their last four matches, they’ll need everyone to come on board. But that’s easier said than done as key players have struggled with injuries or with form in the last few games.
Gaston Sirino missed the trip to Cairo where Sundowns have decided to camp ahead of the two matches against Al Merrikh and Al Ahly. Peter Shalulile, meanwhile, has struggled with form after scoring only once in his last seven matches.
“The reality is that we still have the depth with the squad and that’s why we are here as coaches. If we have no possibility of using the strikers that is the situation that is presented in front of us as coaches of the team," Mokwena said.
“Fortunately, we worked on certain things during the (long) break that we had. But it is what it is. It depends on how you look at it. I (also) think it’s just a matter of time before Peter scores (regularly). We know his qualities and what he brings.”