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Mamelodi Sundowns love it when the going gets tough, says coach Rhulani Mokwena

Rhulani Mokwena laughs during a press conference

Rhulani Mokwena, Head coach of Mamelodi Sundowns says his team can handle the pressure. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Published Sep 19, 2023

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It is a little too early in the season to term this week the litmus test of Mamelodi Sundowns’ credentials as South Africa’s best team.

Yet there can be no denying that the next four days are sure to play a very important role in determining whether the Brazilians go on to be local football’s most dominant team once again, as they have been in the past six seasons.

Sundowns will play back-to-back matches against Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs in the DStv Premiership and the MTN8 tomorrow night (7.30pm kick-off) and Saturday respectively, and are aware that success in both will set them up for a potentially great season.

Beat Pirates at Orlando Stadium tomorrow night, and the team that have been local league champions for the last six seasons would have won all their seven matches this campaign.

More importantly, they would have gotten the better of the one team considered as their main rivals for the title.

A victory over Chiefs in the second leg of the MTN8 semi-finals – in which they enjoy the slight advantage of the away goal following a 1-1 draw in the first leg – will see the Sundowns edge closer to winning the season-opening Cup competition.

Coach Rulani Mokwena is smart enough to know that wins over both the Soweto giants will not deliver titles this early in the campaign.

But the young coach does acknowledge that getting the better of their main rivals will come in handy for what he anticipates to be a tough season, as the rest of the domestic teams look to dethrone them as kings of SA football.

He actually appreciates the “space” Sundowns are in this week, because it provides his team with practice for what is sure to come later on in the season.

“This week is a very good test for us. We anticipate that – as we get on with the season – we will get into a space where we will have to play quarter-finals, semi-finals, finals and league title deciders in the same week, and matches that are of consequence at the business end of the season,” Mokwena said at Sundowns’ headquarters in Chloorkop yesterday afternoon, in reference to the club’s involvement in the Caf Champions League.

“You’ve seen this with some of the biggest teams in Europe. You’ve seen how a Manchester City had to play a championship decider while having to prepare for a (Uefa Champions League) semi-final against (Real) Madrid, or preparing for a final against Intern Milan.

“This is the space that the big teams – with the big players and the top players – have a challenge with, and this is the challenge they accept.

“The harder it is, the better it is because it makes us improve and makes us a better team. We are looking forward to it. And we know how difficult it is, and I think we love it when it is difficult.”

Mokwena explained that they will take the “one game at a time” approach to this week, even though he admitted that he had already begun his homework on Chiefs.

“I said to the players, I have started watching Chiefs because of how tight the schedule is, because I feel some of the homework with Pirates is done now,” he said.

“But I can’t shift my focus from that (Pirates match). I’ve got to go 100% into the next game with the players, with all our energies, with all our focus, because everything we have is galvanised towards Wednesday’s game, and there are no thoughts about what will happen on Saturday.”

@Tshiliboy