Tiyani Mabunda banks on Sundowns to go all the way in the Champions League
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Johannesburg – Mamelodi Sundowns’ legend Tiyani Mabunda says he expects the current group of players to “live up to the bar that they’ve set for themselves” when they begin their Caf Champions League campaign against Maniema Union today.
Sundowns have been one of the most consistent teams in the Pan-African competition, having qualified for the quarter-final on five occasions in the last six seasons. They were crowned the Kings of Africa after beating Zamalek in 2016.
After starting the domestic campaign on a high note, as they are sitting at the summit of the Premiership standings, while they reached the MTN8 final, the Brazilians will be eager to take that momentum to their continental football campaign.
They’ll be away to Maniema, in DR Congo, in the first leg of the second round preliminary qualifiers this afternoon. A win from this encounter will ensure that the Brazilians take a healthy advantage heading to the return leg at home on Sunday.
But Mabunda, the club's newly appointed ambassador and a member of the Champions League winning squad, says he expects his former teammates to make their intentions about winning the continental competition clear from the outset.
“It’s never easy to be away in the Champions League. In any cup, you try your best to get the results. Over the years we’ve been growing in confidence. The current squad is showing signs of excellence in leaps and bounds,” Mabunda said.
“You’ve seen last season; they did so well but unfortunately we didn’t win the cup. But I know that the boys have now really gotten the experience they need to make sure that they go to this campaign with a different approach as a team.”
Mabunda added: “That approach is no longer thinking about ending anywhere in the group stage or knockout stage. But to try to go all the way. I expect the guys to live up to the bar that they’ve set for themselves. They have to keep it.”
While Sundowns may be at the peak of their game in domestic football, they’ll know that continental football is a different kettle of fish. New signings such as Neo Maema, Pavol Safranko and Thabiso Kutumela have been on song at home.
But their lack of experience in the gruelling continental showpiece could be exploited. Mabunda, though, is not worried about their integration on the continent, banking on the seniors to hold their hands when the road gets steep.
“When we were playing, we were surely and slowly introducing new players into the system. So that they get used to the travelling conditions we played under and the responsibility that we carry as a brand,” said the former maestro.
“When we go all over the continent, people celebrate Mamelodi Sundowns which is really shocking. They’ve grown to admire the football that we play. The effort and results that come out is a very good platform for the guys that came in.”
Albeit winning almost every trophy up for grabs, not only locally but on the continent as well,, the MTN8 elluded Mabunda who hung up his boots at the age of 33. But he’s confident that the current group of players will go all the way this term.
Sundowns will be away to Cape Town City in the final of the MTN8 at Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday, October 30. And back-to-back wins against Maniema and Golden Arrows in the league will give them a boost heading to Durban.