Will Pitso and his Sundowns players be smiling in Casablanca?
Wydad have inflicted more pain on Sundowns than any other team in the Caf Champions League. The Moroccan giants ended Sundowns’ run in 2017 when they looked on course to retain the trophy they had won the previous year. Wydad knocked them out in the quarter-finals and went on to win the tournament. The following year Wydad got four points from the Brazilians who crashed out in the group stage.
The two giants resumed their rivalry in the 2018/19 Champions League - the first to run from August to May. Wydad beat Sundowns in Morocco in the group stage and in the semi-finals. The positive for Sundowns in that campaign was that they finally scored against Wydad in Morocco. The 2-1 loss in the semi-final was the club’s best performance against Wydad in their own backyard. They took the fight to the Moroccans and almost stunned them in a bid to reach their third Champions League final.
Even though the side hasn’t improved from that team, there is a strong feeling among those associated with the club that Saturday’s game will see them beat Wydad in Casablanca at home for the first time, or at worst come back with a point and keep their place at the top of the group.
What makes Mosimane smile when talking about this game is the respect between the teams. This game has grown to be one of the most entertaining and eagerly anticipated rivalries on the continent. They fight, bully each other and even have confrontations off the pitch - but at the heart of that is respect and a winning mentality, with neither side willing to give an inch.
Wydad supporters even called for the club to hire Mosimane as replacement for the legendary coach Faouzi Benzarti. They did this despite putting up a banner that was critical of Mosimane following their heated clash in the group stage last season. The banner was chastising Mosimane for his criticism of Wydad, but what he said was lost in translation and led to the supporters assuming he called the club cheats. “Pitso Mosimane: great country when teaching you, becoming corrupt when beating you,” was the banner’s message translated from Arabic. This was in reference to Mosimane doing his Caf Pro Licence in Morocco.
This licence and Wydad’s rivalry with Sundowns has seen Mosimane frequent Morocco a lot, to a point that he understands their culture and winning mentality. He has banter with Moroccan coaches during the course, and they always remind him that he hasn’t won there.