Sundowns captain Hlompho Kekana says winning the league has lifted some pressure off the shoulders. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – Mamelodi Sundowns captain Hlompho Kekana issued a strong warning to Wydad Casablanca regarding the type of team the Moroccans will face on Saturday night in the Caf Champions League at Lucas Moripe Stadium.

The Brazilians are still smarting from the elimination suffered at the hands of Casablanca in the quarterfinals of last year’s Champions League.

The Moroccan giants eliminated Sundowns on penalties after the two legs ended 1-1 on aggregate. Casablanca won the tournament, while Sundowns were toughened by that experience.

They brought some of the tricks they learned in the continent to the Absa Premiership, which they won with a game to spare.

While Sundowns have wrapped up their domestic league, Casablanca are in a precarious position with three games to go as they sit in fourth place – outside the top three spots that guarantee continental football next season.

“The confidence is high now that we have won the league,” Kekana said.

“The boys are free now and they are ready to take on anybody. It was a tense season for us, but knowing that we have won the league is very important for us because it will help us mentally.

“Our only focus now is the Champions League because we have done the job domestically. It will be easy for us to play our normal game because we don’t have the pressure of winning the league anymore.

“We will go and enjoy ourselves against Wydad.”

The reigning African champions are a smart unit that know how to manage games of this nature.

Sundowns dominated Casablanca last year, but the Moroccans managed the game better, losing only 1-0 in the first leg before going to win 1-0 in the home leg despite playing second fiddle to the Brazilians.

The Chloorkop-based side were woeful in the penalty shootout, while Casablanca kept their cool to advance to the semi-finals.

“The last time we played them, we didn’t play our normal game, especially in Morocco,” Kekana said.

“We allowed them to dictate the match. Every time I watch that game, I realise that if we had played our normal game, we would have hurt them.

“They were scared of us in the first half and they sat back, playing with a more defensive approach.

“We have looked at those matches again, analysed how they defend, and I am sure now we will have a lot of space and more opportunities to score.

“I am looking forward to this game. I am just happy we are playing them as South African champions because we are a happy and a free bunch.”

Sundowns come into this match with just one loss from their past 18 matches in all competitions.

They have also been boosted by the return to full fitness of Soumahoro Bangaly and Anthony Laffor. The duo have big match temperament, which will come in handy in the group stage.

Sundowns allowed Wydad Casablanca to dictate their last match, says Hlompho Kekana. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

The Brazilians will be driven by their desire to do well at home, as they did in the 2016 Champions League, which they won, having scored two or more goals in all matches in Atteridgeville.

Last year they were disappointing at home, but did well on the road. In this campaign, they are looking to strike a balance on their form away and at home.

“The momentum we have, of winning matches, will take us to the final (of the Champions League),” Kekana said.

“We know how important it is to win your home games. That’s a key ingredient to winning the Champions League.

“We need to start with a win at home so we have a solid foundation. We want to advance from the group stage without a loss.”


Saturday Star