Johannesburg - Mamelodi Sundowns’ co-coach Rhulani Mokwena says Andile Jali’s impressive form this season is a reflection of the entire team.
On Saturday night, the Brazilians progressed to the final of the Nedbank Cup after beating Royal AM 2-1 in the semi-final at a packed Chatsworth stadium.
Aubrey Modiba gave Sundowns the lead from a set-piece in the second half before Thabo Matlaba equalised from open play for the hosts.
A blunder from goalkeeper Patrick Nyame ensured the visitors got the winning goal after Peter Shalulile intercepted his poor clearance before Pavol Safranko slotted home the loose ball.
Sundowns' win meant that they kept their chances of winning a domestic treble alive. On Wednesday, they were crowned the DStv Premiership champions for a record fifth successive season with four games to spare, while they won the MTN8 earlier in the season.
Out in Chatsworth, Jali walked away with the Man-of-the-Match award following another solid display in Sundowns’ engine room. Mokwena afterwards reiterated that Jali should be crowned the Footballer of the Season.
“Well, you have to give me a little bit more than just a couple of minutes we have because it’s not just about today but the entire season,” Mokwena said in his post-match reaction on SuperSport.
“In a couple of months ago, I asked South Africa and the media: ‘Why are we not starting this debate about the Footballer of the Season?’
“The performances have been indicative of his personality. A couple of years ago, they called him 'the Napoleon, the Dynamo' and that’s what he shows: his leadership qualities and tenacity. His overall experience to assist the team in difficult moments.
“We are very fortunate to have him and the entire group. AJ is just a reflection of the entire group.”
The odds may have favoured Sundowns to come away with the victory against Royal AM. But that was easier said than done given Royal AM’s breakthrough season in the top-flight.
The rookies have been so good that they are second in the league with 45 points, 13 behind the champions.
If they hold on to that spot in the last four games, Thwihli Thwahla will qualify for the coveted CAF Champions League alongside the Brazilians at the first attempt.
Mokwena credited the work that has been done by his counterpart John Maduka at the club, and that’s why he feels that they had to be at their best to make passage to the final.
“A very spirited fight from the opposition. I think Royal AM have had a very good season. John Maduka and his technical team have done very, very good,” Mokwena said.
“But huge kudos to our team. We knew we had to battle today; fight, grind and play with a lot of grit and tenacity. And we did that. We played the way we were supposed to play because the pitch was not very good and they were fresher. They ran, closed us down and chased us all over the pitch.
“They forced us into a lot of mistakes. But I think tactically we were excellent today. Maybe, tactically, the best tactical performance of the season this season.”
Sundowns will host Marumo Gallants in the final of the country's premier club knockout competition at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace in Rustenburg on Saturday, May 28. Kick-off is at 6pm.