Pitso Mosimane has guided Mamelodi Sundowns to great success. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix
If it wasn’t for the CAF Champions League, Mamelodi Sundowns wouldn’t have won the Absa Premiership last season in their worst showing under coach Pitso Mosimane.

The Brazilians were stretched to their limits by playing over 50 games and travelling all over the continent. At one point they flew from Rabat in Morocco after taking on Wydad Casablanca in the Champions League and went straight to Thohoyandou to take on Black Leopards in the league.

They faltered in the Champions League, being eliminated in the semi-finals, but they still had enough to claim a record ninth league title in the Premier Soccer League era.

Sundowns were in a rebuilding phase last season after losing Percy Tau and Khama Billiat, two influential components of their attack.

Mosimane couldn’t replace the pair, but he did find men good enough to help Sundowns win the championship after Orlando Pirates pushed them until the last game. Even though Sundowns weren’t at their best, they knew how to manage games through the experience they gained from playing in the Champions League for a sixth successive season.

In the continent’s premier club competition, it is not about playing pretty but about playing smartly. Sundowns have mastered that, which should help them in their quest for a fifth successive appearance in the group stage of the Champions League.

Tonight, they host AS Otoho in the return leg of the preliminary round. The Congolese side come to Lucas Moripe Stadium with a 2-1 lead from the first leg. The away goal gives Sundowns an edge in their shot at continental dominance. Mosimane was bullish of his team’s chances in Atteridgeville. “If we can manage to emulate the game against Bloemfontein Celtic and SuperSport United, we should be okay,” he said.

Champions League football has become a staple diet for Sundowns’ faithfuls who have grown used to seeing their team rub shoulders with African football royalty.

Last season they demolished Al-Ahly 5-0 before coming unstuck against Wydad for the umpteenth time, the same Moroccan team who knocked them out in the quarter-finals in 2017 and the group stage in 2018.

There is a feeling of unfinished business in this competition since their 2016 victory.

The Champions League has turned Sundowns from boys to men, men who can hold their own in this challenging competition and still have enough for their domestic commitments.

Mosimane leads his team after a two-month break for the first time since 2015. Despite playing football non-stop for four years, Sundowns were still strong enough to finish first three times and second twice.

The key to achieving that is that the club sets their goals high by gunning for the Champions League. When that doesn’t happen, they fall back on the league where they are a country mile ahead of most teams with their quality and the experience of their technical team.

* Orlando Pirates take on Zambia’s Green Eagles in a CAF Champions League preliminary round game at Orlando Stadium tonight. The are expected to overturn a 1-0 first leg deficit inflicted on them by the plucky Zambians.

The kick off is at 9pm.

Independent on Saturday