Johannesburg - Suspended co-coach Rulani Mokwena has backed his peers and the players to do Mamelodi Sundowns and South Africa proud, when they host continental kings Al Ahly in the return leg of the African Champions League’s group stage on Saturday.
“Not having to be part of the match, it is what it is. These things happen in football. Unfortunately, the show must go on. At Sundowns, no one is more important than the team. What is important is that the team must do well,” he said.
At Al Saalam Stadium a fortnight ago, Sundowns achieved the improbable as they beat the champions away for the first time. The Brazilians achieved that feat through a lot of tenacity and determination having lost Mokwena in the first 30 minutes.
Mokwena received two yellow cards for dissent. The sanction means he’ll miss out on a handful of games for Downs in Group A. Against Ahly, fellow co-coach Manqoba Mngqithi and the senior coach Steve Komphela will be on the bench.
Mokwena, though, has backed the team to come out as victors against the Eagles at the FNB Stadium. Three points for Downs against the Pitso Mosimane-coached outfit will see the local champions put one foot in the last-eight.
“What is important is the team to win the game. If that has to happen without my absence then so be it. I’ll be with the team in spirit. We’ll do the work that we need to do, it doesn't do anything. There’s work that needs to be done,” he said.
“There’s work that happens behind the scenes: a lot of training sessions. Of course, the match is just a reflection on the preparation. We'll continue to work hard and prepare ourselves as best as we can. I’ll make my smaller contribution.”
The two African giants head to the match high on confidence. On Wednesday, Sundowns trounced amateur side Mathaithai 6-0 in Nedbank Cup last 16, while Ahly extended their lead at the top of the Egyptian log after their victory against Pyramids.
Ahly arrived in South Africa on Tuesday at noon led by an ecstatic Mosimane, who was rewarded with a two-year improved contract by the club after his illustrious success in less than two years after he left the Brazilians late 2020.
It’s been said that Ahly will use the Kaizer Chiefs training base, the Taung Village, for their preparations until they are allowed to train at the Calabash on Friday.
“We’ll try to make some subs in relation to that (game),” said Mokwena after they fielded a makeshift team against Mathaithai at home, Atteridgeville. “So, we are in a very good space and trying the best that we can to manage the program.
“But It’s a program that we love. We love being in the space of playing after every two days. No complaints from us. It’s just a continuity of a lot of hard work, knuckling down and pushing ourselves to the extreme of doing well as a team.”