Africa / 30 December 2019, 12:25pm / Bonginkosi Ndadane
JOHANNESBURG – Pitso Mosimane cut a humble figure at the Mustapha Tchaker Stadium in Bilda despite Mamelodi Sundowns proving him right in his prediction that the Brazilians will return from Algeria with maximum points.
The 1-0 win over USM Alger on Saturday saw Sundowns put one foot in the quarter-finals of the CAF Champions League with seven points from their first three matches.
Hlompho Kekana scored the all-important goal in his 300th appearance for the club, benefiting from some sloppy defending by the Algerians. Wydad Casablanca thumped Angola’s Petro de Luanda 4-1 in Morocco to move to five points and confirm what everyone thought when Group C was completed, that Sundowns and Wydad will finish in the top two.
Should both clubs win their next games in January, Sundowns against USM Alger in Pretoria and Wydad away to the Angolans, the Brazilians would secure passage to the quarter-finals and Wydad would need just a point from their remaining two matches.
But Mosimane, a man not shy to thump his chest and proclaim his team’s greatness, adopted a humble stance in how he views his team’s progress in the tournament.
“I don’t think that we are already in the quarter-finals, it’s too early,” Mosimane said. “No team has gone to the quarterfinals with seven points. We still have nine points to play for. We are going to fight for them.
"Of course we are happy that we won the match. I am happy that we passed the test from the first 10 minutes because they put us under pressure.
"We settled after that and played our normal football.”
Mosimane insisted that if Sundowns plays their normal football, they will return from Algeria with a win. This match was a huge psychological test for the club. The last time they played Champions League football in Algeria, things didn’t go well.
They outplayed ES Setif but the fans spoiled that spectacle, throwing objects onto the pitch and halting play.
USM Alger fans were well behaved, but they did create an intimidating atmosphere and passionately backed their team.
But the main challenge was that Sundowns’ players and technical team spent their Christmas in Algeria.
They created their own festivities in the hotel which included dressing up as Santa Claus, singing Christmas carols and playing games.
There was also some work done to ensure that they get the better of USM Alger who have fallen from their lofty heights but are still a tricky customer.
Sundowns won’t have much time to rest when they return home. The Brazilians will get two days off and then visit AmaZulu on Saturday in Durban in the Absa Premiership. Six days later they will host USM Alger. The real Mosimane returned when he looked ahead to that match, speaking in his usual bullish manner.
“You have to win,” Mosimane said. “It’s not easy.
"Zamalek drew (against Zesco United in Zamabia) and Etoile du Sahel lost (to Al Hilal in Tunisia). It’s football, it’s very difficult.
"But I can promise that we will play better at home than this. We are much stronger at home.”