Pitso: This Downs-Al Ahly clash so big!
In 2016, Sundowns were greeted by chants of “Pirates, Pirates” in the Congo with the locals mistaking them for Orlando Pirates - then the only South African club to have conquered the continent.
Pirates had visited Dolisie in 2013 to take on AC Leopards in the group stage of the Champions League, so them mistaking Sundowns for the Buccaneers wasn’t out of malice.
“They didn’t call us any other team,” Mosimane said in 2016. “What does that mean? You want to be known, (then) get to play in the Champions League regularly.”
The Brazilians have played in the Champions League every season since that trip to Congo, including winning the tournament that year. They have become big boys in continental football.
When they arrive in Egypt, everyone knows them due to their big wins over Zamalek and Al Ahly. Regardless of where they go in the continent, no one mistakes them for any club now.
That’s why it’s a source of pride for Mosimane that Sundowns are part of the eight clubs in the quarter-finals who have made this the toughest in the tournament’s history as this is the first time that this stage is made up of teams who have won the tournament before.
“Champions League is tough, and this is the toughest,” Mosimane said.
“You have all the big boys in the last eight. It shows! (TP) Mazembe lost. Etoile (du Sahel) lost! We lost! Everyone playing away lost in the first leg.
“It is the biggest of them all, and it might never happen again in CAF history. But what we like is to cherish the opportunity as Mamelodi Sundowns.
“It’s history for us to be a part of the top eight teams in the continent.
“I can bet you come next year’s quarter-finals you will find six or seven of these teams there.
“You’ve got to make your history and fight. What’s good for Mamelodi Sundowns is to play in that space because you don’t buy to play there. You work hard, you become consistent and then you do it year after year. It’s a good life, but one of hardship.
“You want to be a part of that as a coach; that’s where I believe a coach in the continent is really tested. Play in that space! It’s good for the club, the players.”
Sundowns’ participation in the Champions League has not only grown their brand but also the players’ mental strength.
The club has become masters of managing games, evident in how they won the league last season when they weren’t at their best.
Mosimane takes pride in how strong Sundowns finish, boasting that his team can win the last five matches if that’s what it will take for them to win the championship.
But for all their success, they still attract paltry crowds at home for key Champions League matches while they consistently play in front of packed and loud stadiums away.
That’s why they club has gone on a drive to pack Lucas Moripe Stadium this afternoon for the club’s second leg clash with Al Ahly in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
“You go there (to Egypt to face Al Ahly) and already before the match starts there are 20 000 people sitting - before we even warm-up,” Mosimane said.
“So we also learn that we will probably put 20 000 fans sitting one and a half hours before the match (in the future).
“It’s huge! I am telling you that it is huge. I thought that the game of playing Al Ahly last year was huge, but this game is bigger. It’s bigger!
“Then you know how big Al Ahly is. You look at Al Ahly and your team and realise that we have a long way to go here. There is a big, big gap between Sundowns and Al Ahly. We might try and close it on the pitch, but as an institution and as a club they are huge.
“I thought I saw Al Ahly last year, but I saw another Al Ahly this year.”
The Brazilians’ dominance in the domestic league, chasing a record-stretching 10th league title in the PSL era this season, is down to their Champions League ambitions - especially under Mosimane.
When Patrice Motsepe said he wanted to conquer the continent after buying the club, he searched all over the world for a man who would grant him that wish. But all along his man was right under his nose, a former Sundowns’ striker who has taken the club to new heights.
Mosimane’s grand ambitions of conquering the continent and playing against some of the best clubs in the world means that winning the league is non-negotiable - at worst, Sundowns have to finish second to get a Champions League ticket.
That’s what they have done every season under Mosimane when he has been at the helm from the beginning.
That drive means that the club is now known from Dolisie to Casablanca.