Denis Onyango has high hoped for Mamelodi Sundowns in the CAF Champions League. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Denis Onyango’s accomplishments tower over the aspirations he had when he started his professional career 13 years ago, but the Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper isn’t done just yet.

He is aiming higher and destined to conquer.

The 32-year-old took home Caf’s Player of the Year - based in Africa award earlier this year just before he led Uganda to their first appearance in the Africa Cup of Nations in almost four decades.

The crowning glory of Onyango’s career is being part of the first Sundowns generation to win the Caf Champions League - a tournament that holds a special place in his heart.

“My dream was to at least play in the group stage of the Champions League,” Onyango said at the club’s base in Chloorkop ahead of their quarter-final clash with Wydad Casablanca of Morocco on Sunday afternoon at Lucas Moripe Stadium.

“I wanted to reach the group stage with Sundowns because I had never reached it in Uganda (with Sports Club Villa), in Ethiopia (Saint George) and even when I was at SuperSport United.

“I have surpassed that. I have learned a lot from this journey. The drive now is to make it difficult for the next group of players by setting the bar high.

“I only have one Champions League title now. Anyone can win one Champions League but it takes something special to win it twice or three times and possibly be Africa’s best player again.

“That’s now what I want to achieve and obviously play in my first World Cup. I want to leave a good challenge for the next generation.”

Onyango will return in goal this afternoon after coach Pitso Mosimane gave him a rest on Monday against Free State Stars having played back-to-back World Cup qualifiers against Egypt with the Cranes.

The towering Onyango could make history on two fronts this year for club and country.

The Brazilians are looking to become the first South African team to retain the Champions League, while Uganda are fighting to make their first appearance in the World Cup.

If he can help his two teams reach those objectives, he would cement his place as Africa’s finest.

“Being called Africa’s finest is the best feeling ever but at the same time it comes with a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure.

“I must carry myself as Africa’s finest. I don’t want to change because now I am called that. I want to maintain the performances that led me to being called Africa’s finest and do better than what I did.

“I think I am on the right path. Sundowns also has the same challenge. As Africa’s No1 team, we are looking to maintain that status by working hard and defend our title.”

The 19-time Moroccan champions, Wydad, will offer Sundowns a stern challenge in their bid to reach the semi-finals.

These types of matches, just like coming up against Ghana and Egypt, the best on the continent, bring out the best in Onyango.

“No one gave us a chance as Uganda after Ghana, Egypt and Congo were drawn with us in the World Cup qualifiers, but now we are second on the log and what looked like an impossible dream could be a reality,” Onyango said.

“We are playing without pressure because we are the lowest seeded team. We looked at the bigger picture and thought that we could surprise people by winning our home games and go to the World Cup for the first time in our lives.

“No one also gave us a chance as Sundowns and we defied the odds to win the Champions League. Now what can stop us from retaining it?”

Sunday Independent

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