Rulani Mokwena hails Mamelodi Sundowns’ ‘suffer and absorb’ effort

Mamelodi Sundowns head coach Rulani Mokwena during the CAF Champions League 2022/23 Semifinal Mamelodi Sundowns press conference held at Mohamed V Stadium in Casablanca, Morocco

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena has hailed the efforts of his troops in their victory over Egyptian side Pyramids FC in the CAF Champions League. Picture: Nour Akanja/BackpagePix

Published Dec 21, 2023


The significance of Mamelodi Sundowns’ CAF Champions League victory at Pyramids FC on Tuesday night cannot be overstated.

In beating the Egyptian side 1-0 in their own Cairo backyard, Sundowns have essentially put one foot into the knockout phase of the continent’s premier club competition ahead of the two-month festive period and Africa Cup of Nations-induced break.

A fantastic long-range strike by Teboho Mokoena in the first half earned the Brazilians maximum points, which now sees them tied on seven points with TP Mazembe at the top of the table.

Congolese outfit Mazembe beat Mauritania’s Nouadhibou 2-0 in Lubumbashi on Tuesday.

So close they can almost taste it

With two matches left in the group, Rulani Mokwena’s men need victory away to the Mauritanian club, who host them on February 23, to stay on course to reach the business end of the competition they are trying to win for a second time.

The 2016 champions will be confident of success, having hammered Nouadhibou 3-0 at Loftus Versfeld in the first round last month.

“I would like to congratulate Mamelodi Sundowns for the victory. It was a difficult game against a difficult side, with very good players. We had to suffer in some of the moments, and it showed that we can adapt to the conditions,” Mokwena told the Sundowns website.

“It was necessary to suffer because in the end, we did not give away a lot of chances. I am happy with the performance of the team. The performance was tricky in certain moments, but I’m very happy with the overall performance.

“Winning this match is a big a step, but not a big enough step because it’s only three points that’s between us and the other two teams.

“For the majority of the game we had some good moments where we dominated possession, and that’s not always easy in the Champions League, so we had to play and answer that – that’s the modern game at the moment.

“We are football romantics … We love football, but we also understand that in the game of football, you have to answer what the game asks of you.

“If the game asks you to counter-attack, you’ve got to counter-attack – we don’t play for that.

“If the game asks you to suffer and absorb, we have to suffer and absorb pressure, but we don’t play for that.”

Success in Mauritius a must

Success over the Mauritanians and a victory for a clearly rejuvenated Mazembe at home to Pyramids will see the South African and Congolese sides progressing from Group A before the final group matches.

And with the two squaring up at Loftus, Sundowns will need to win more than 1-0 if they are to finish top of the table.

Things could get tricky, though, should Pyramids complete the double over a Mazembe outfit they beat 1-0 in Egypt.

That result and a Sundowns win at Nouadhibou will see Mazembe making the trip to Pretoria hard-pressed to beat the South African champions, an outcome that – combined with a Pyramids win at home to the Mauritanians – would see the three teams tied on 10 points.

Such a scenario would lead to a new table being created for the trio, excluding Noaudhibou, which is something that neither side would want.

It is thus clear that the penultimate round of matches are going to be crucial, and with Sundowns looking likely to have a good number of players in Bafana Bafana’s squad that will contest the Africa Cup of Nations in the Ivory Coast, Mokwena is sure to be crossing his fingers that his stars return fit and with no injuries.

Domestic ambitions

Before all that, though, Sundowns have the small matter of ensuring they get closer to winning a seventh successive local Premiership title.

They look good for it already, early as it is in the season, as they enjoy a good seven-point lead over second-placed SuperSport United, who have played three matches more than Sundowns’ 11 games.

The Brazilians have clashes against Cape Town City (Sunday, away), Moroka Swallows (December 27, home) and Sekhukhune United (December 30, home) before the year comes to a close, and such has been their scintillating domestic form that you could bet your house on them winning all three.

Do not, however, take that risk when it comes to their continental assignments – their victory at Pyramids on Tuesday notwithstanding.