JOHANNESBURG – The challenge of competing in three competitions with the aim of winning all three doesn’t faze Mamelodi Sundowns’ goalkeeper Denis Onyango, instead it spurs him on in the club’s quest to make amends for last season.
The Brazilians finished the last campaign without a tangible trophy, a rare sight as Sundowns had won a major trophy in every season that coach Pitso Mosimane managed the club from start to finish. The only silverware that shone at Chloorkop last season was the Caf Super Cup, a curtain raiser for the start of the African season which sees the Caf Champions League winners square off against the Caf Confederation Cup champions.
The Brazilians’ quest to make amends start tonight in their clash with Rwandan side Rayon Sports at Amahoro Stadium in Kigali in the first leg of the Champions League’s first round.
Sundowns will then face EC Bees in the last 16 of the Nedbank Cup at Loftus Versfeld on Tuesday before hosting the return leg against Rayon on Sunday with a place in the group stage up for grabs. After that there is the matter of maintaining their place at the summit of the Absa Premiership with seven matches to go.
“The schedule is much better now that the format of the Champions League has changed with less qualifying rounds,” Onyango said from Kigali. “We just play one game and we are in the group stage. That eases the work load. But we also have enough players to rotate the team and everyone is capable of doing the job. We have the quality to compete in three competitions and hopefully we go very far in all of them so that we can take the team where it belongs because last year wasn’t a good year for us.
We want to do our best this season without any excuses. We’ve reinforced the squad and brought new players who are fresh. We believe we have the squad to compete in all three competitions and do well in all three.”
Onyango doesn’t get much home comforts in his job since he works almost 5000km away from the city of his birth Kampala in Uganda. This trip to Rwanda, Uganda’s neighbours, offers him something close to home comforts as he knows the country very well along with its weather patterns. Onyango is also aware of the stature of their opponents tonight.
“Rayon are a very good and big team in Rwanda,” Onyango said. “They’re behind APR (Armée Patriotique Rwandaise) in terms of success. We like playing games where there are a lot of fans. This boosts us and pushes us. We are in a country where they love football. We will adjust and just do our thing. We will try to get a positive result from here so that we don’t have too many problems in the return leg in Pretoria.
We aren’t going to focus on the other stuff around Rayon because we are also a big team. This will be a clash between two big teams. We will use our experience in the Champions League to qualify for the group stage.”
Sundowns trained on grass for the first time yesterday as they got to experience the match venue after training in an artificial pitch in their first two training sessions in Rwanda due to limited good grass pitches there.
“We will go all out because we don’t want to have problems in Pretoria. We saw this last year when we struggled in most of our home games yet we did well on the road. We want to do well away so that we make it easy for ourselves at home because there is a lot of pressure there when you don’t have positive results.”@NJABULON