Rhulani Mokwena says Sundowns won’t underestimate Al Ahly in CAF Champions League clash

Mamelodi Sundowns head coach Rhulani Mokwena

FILE - Mamelodi Sundowns head coach Rhulani Mokwena. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Published Mar 9, 2023


Johannesburg — Al Ahly’s winless record against Mamelodi Sundowns away from home doesn’t faze Rhulani Mokwena who's impressed by the Egyptians' experience in CAF Champions League.

After returning to the core of continental football almost a decade ago, Sundowns have formed a fierce rivalry with Al Ahly in recent years.

In nine meetings since 2019, Al Ahly have never beaten Sundowns away, while the latter ran riot 5-0 during the Egyptians first visit to South Africa in 2019.

The two teams have blown hot and cold in the competition in recent years though, especially after Pitso Mosimane swopped allegiance between them.

Mosimane won the African crown with Sundowns in 2016 before moving up north to guide the Egyptian giants to back-to-back championships in 2020 and 2021.

The two teams are evenly balanced on paper this season as they are both favourites to win the continental crown.

They held each other to an entertaining 2-all draw in their first meeting in Group B in Cairo a fortnight ago to set up a thrilling return leg in Tshwane on Saturday afternoon.

But with Sundowns still holding that undefeated advantage in their backyard since 2019 and leading Al Ahly with three points in Group B, it would be easier to tip them as favourites heading into the match.

However Mokwena doesn’t believe they are favourites, given the experience that their opponents possess.

“It’s difficult to comment on their winless record against us away,” Mokwena said at their Chloorkop headquarters on Thursday.

“They are a team that have 393 CAF Champions League appearances among their regulars compared to my team that has 170 CAF Champions League appearances.

“So for sure, without looking too much at the threat and quality they possess, (they are strong opponents). (But) like any other team, they have their own weaknesses.

“But we must try and win football matches. Regardless of the time we play at, and where, we show the same enthusiasm and spirit. We did that in Cairo and we must do it again here at home.”

Sundowns have already embraced the pressure of winning matches, instead of playing not to lose. They are on course to win their record sixth Premiership title in a row.

Adding the African title to the list of their achievements this season would go a long way in stamping their authority across Africa and repaying the investments put in by the club’s management.

According to Mokwena, it’s matches like the one against Al Ahly – and as early as in the group stage – that will help his players improve and gauge their readiness to compete until the final hurdle in major competitions.

“These are the games that the players have to get used to playing: big games with consequences behind the scoreline,” Mokwena said.

“And the only way that they can get used to that is to play these games and get that level of experience. So we all have to give them a fair chance to make names and history for themselves at the club.

“And that starts with every game and training session. So there’s not much to read with regards to that (Al Ahly being winless in South Africa).”


IOL Sport