Lebusa: Mental strength the key
From time to time, the somewhat small 76kg defender finds himself in the midst of having to battle for possession against the physically gifted West and East Africans when he represents Mamelodi Sundowns in the Caf Champions League.
It has been an 18-month stint to relish for Lebusa at Sundowns, having bounced back from deep despair with Ajax Cape Town, who were relegated to the second-tier division three seasons ago, to the dizzying heights of winning the Premiership title with Sundowns in his first season.
But while the Welkom-born footballer ended the 2018/2019 season with the league’s gold medal adding to his silverware collection, one of his greatest achievements included making his debut in the Pan-African competition, where he made six appearances before Sundowns were eliminated in the semi-finals.
Enter the 2019/2020 Champions group stage matches. Due to battles with injury, Lebusa has featured just once in three matches for Sundowns in the group stages, only playing the entire game when the Brazilians salvaged an invaluable point with an away 0-0 draw to rivals and Moroccan giants Wydad Casablanca.
“It is very physical in Africa, and I know that I am not that big. But I always say that it’s about mental strength. Sometimes, you can see from the onset that you are not going to win the battle, so you don’t have to commit but instead, you’ve got to use your mind wisely,” Lebusa said.
“There are some things that you don’t have to get involved in, so give them to the person who can handle the physical side. And if you are not that person, just don’t get involved.”
In their last six successive seasons in the Champions League, Sundowns have reigned supreme once, back in 2016.
However, their efforts and blistering home records over the years have made them forces to be reckoned among their counterparts, which include Group C nemesis Casablanca.
This season, though, Mosimane and his charges are in a cruise mode as they top Group C with seven points; their only blemish being the stalemate in Rabat, while they’ve cracked the whip on the Angolans, Petro de Luanda, and Algerians, USM Alger respectively. But with three matches still to play in the group stages, there’s no time for Sundowns to rest on their laurels as the full nine points would guarantee them qualification for the quarter-finals and send them to the summit of the group - something that would see them being seeded and drawn against a runners-up finisher from the other groups in the last eight.
The Brazilians will begin their bid for full points in the remaining three matches when they welcome USM Alger to Loftus Versfeld Stadium this afternoon (3pm kick-off).
“We take every game differently. And if we want to qualify for the second round, then we have to beat them, and attack from all angles. Whenever, we play teams from North Africa, when they come here, we choke them. So, we have to choke them again, until they break,” Lebusa said.
You see, the sooner Sundowns secure their Champions League knockout stage spot, the quicker they can focus on domestic matters.
The Brazilians are second in the Premiership standings with 32 points, six adrift from log leaders. Kaizer Chiefs, who’ve also played 16 matches.
This means that Lebusa and company have to win at least the first two out of the three remaining matches in Africa and quickly earn their knockout stage spot as that will allow them to play their two PSL catch-up matches - against Orlando Pirates and SuperSport United respectively - with not to much discomfort.
“We want to finish the group on top, so that we avoid facing the other big boys on the other side. That’s been our mandate from the outset with the group stage matches,” he said.
Independent on Saturday