Manqoba Mngqithi wary of a congested January schedule
CAPE TOWN - Mamelodi Sundowns may have bagged a win in the first leg of the last round of Caf Champions League preliminary qualifiers, but coach Manqoba Mngqithi is still anticipating a tough tussle in the return leg at home.
Fresh from finishing at the summit of the Premiership in the first half of the season, the Brazilians turned their focus to the gruelling continental showpiece for the first time this season, having had a bye in the first round of the preliminary qualifiers.
The Brazilians, though, didn't stutter in their encounter on Tuesday, defeating Botswana side Jwaneng Galaxy 2-0 away to take a healthy advantage in the return leg at home on 5 January.
But coach Mngqithi – who was beside his predecessor Pitso Mosimane when they made Sundowns a force to be reckoned with in Africa – knows that the job is not over yet, especially with a congested January fixture list.
Before Sundowns play the return leg, they will meet Orlando Pirates in a top of the table clash, with the two teams enjoying an unbeaten start to the season – while the latter also walked away with the coveted MTN8 crown a fortnight ago.
“That one (the return leg) is a little bit of a tricky one because we'll not be with the players. On the Christmas break, we'll give them a few days off. We are having a game against Pirates on the 2nd, then on the 5th, we are playing Galaxy,” Mngqithi said.
“We know that it won't be an easy one because it will depend on how people party. But I am optimistic that we'll come right. The boys understand the value of getting into the group stage, that's what we've always played for. It's important we get the dominance.”
Sundowns may have won the Champions League four years ago after defeating Zamalek over a two legged final, but since then their best finish was in the semi-finals in 2019 – where they were knocked out of the competition by Wydad Casablanca.
After the seamless integration of new players who were signed during the close season transfer window – such as Mothobi Mvala and Peter Shalulile, the duo who scored against Galaxy on their Champions League debuts – Sundowns look to be a welloiled machine.
But Mngqithi didn't want to praise individual contributions, instead he was grateful that Sundowns' plan of dealing with the aerial threat of Galaxy, who they have met in numerous friendlies before, paid off as they are also strong in dead-ball situations.
“In set-pieces we knew that they were going to be very dangerous,” he said. “We really believed that is one area that they can punish us on. Those boys (who've got height) are very aggressive aerially. That's why we brought a team that's stronger aerially.”
Having been known to be a team that plays carpet football, Mngqithi lamented how the pitch at Lobatse Stadium wasn't concussive to Sundowns' style of play. But regardless, he was full of praise and had advice for Galaxy whose domestic season is yet to commence.
“This is a very good team that we played against. They can play football on the ground.”