Wayne Arendse says Sundowns were the better team over the two legs against Wydad Casablanca last season despite losing the tie. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – His parents might have named him Wayne Earl Arendse, but if he continues his exploits in the continent’s premier inter-club competition, then the Mamelodi Sundowns’ centreback will soon be known as Mr Caf Champions League.

Arendse has been a colossal figure for the Brazilians in the Champions League through his leadership qualities, composure in heated moments and scoring key goals from set-pieces thanks to his towering frame. 

Those qualities will come in handy for Sundowns on Saturday night at the start of their group stage campaign in the Champions League, when they take on reigning African champions Wydad Casablanca at Lucas Moripe Stadium (9pm kickoff).

“What brings out the best out of me in the Champions League is that this is a tournament that pits the best against the best,” Arendse said. 

“I thrive in those situations because I want to prove myself against the best Africa has to offer. 

“As a team, we want to be regarded as one of the best on the continent, so for us to have that title, we have to play and beat the best. 

“This tournament tests more than your skills on the field; it tests your character and mental strength, which is why I love it so much.”

The Brazilians’ clash with Casablanca is a grudge match of sorts. The Moroccan giants knocked out Sundowns in the quarter-finals last year and went on to win the coveted trophy that Sundowns were defending. 

“It was very hard when we lost against them because we felt we were the better team in those two legs,” Arendse said. 

“But we didn’t take our chances, and that’s how we were knocked out. It was a big lesson for us because we didn’t score enough at home. We did that well in the year that we won the Champions League. 

“Last year was an eye-opener for us on many levels. The Champions League taught us the importance of managing the game. 

“Teams like Al-Ahly, Zamalek and Casablanca are masters of managing the game. 

“Once they go ahead, they do everything that they can to control the match and kill the rhythm when their opponents are pushing them against the wall. We brought that to the PSL, and that’s how we won the league.”

Sundowns did themselves a favour by winning the league with a game to spare. 

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This will give coach Pitso Mosimane an opportunity to rest key players against Bloemfontein Celtic on May 12 because four days later, they take on Barcelona in a friendly at the FNB Stadium.

The Brazilians are looking to start their Champions League campaign with two wins so that they are in control of their group. 

“A win over Casablanca would be a huge psychological boost because we'd start the group stage with a win and we'd do so against the reigning African champions," says Arendse. 

“This tournament is about reclaiming our rightful place at the top.”

 

Saturday Star