JOHANNESBURG - It’s their last CAF Champions League group stage fixture on the road and Mamelodi Sundowns must make it count, said defender Wayne Arendse yesterday.
The Brazilians, winners of this tournament in 2016, face the current holders Wydad Casablanca in Morocco desperate for points to change their status as bad travellers in this edition of the continent’s premier club competition.
In Conakry back in May, Sundowns paid the price for their poor defending when Horoya levelled matters with only seven minutes left on the clock, forcing coach Pitso Mosimane’s side to drop two valuable points as the encounter ended in a 2-2 draw.
Then away to AS Togo-Port in Lomé last month, the South African champions returned home empty-handed following a 1-0 defeat at the Stade Municipal. Sundowns can’t afford being so consistently poor outside their own borders, where they have not been convincing either, it must be said. But results have also gone their way elsewhere and they occupy a qualification spot for the quarter-finals as the second placed team in Group C.
“We know that this is the one we need to win,” Arendse said from Casablanca, where they will take on log leaders Wydad. “We need to play our game, not think about the crowd or the referee. As soon as that happens then that is when we will start making mistakes. When we won the Champions League the last time we played our game, enjoyed it and did what we had to do, things like playing with flair and freedom. I think when we do that, Sundowns are unstoppable.”
Wydad held the Brazilians to a 1-1 draw at the Lucas Moripe Stadium when both sides opened their campaign in the group stages, and the South Africans have battled their way through ever since even with that 2-1 win against AS Togo-Port in their return leg in Atteridgeville.
Should they win in Morocco, Sundowns will be tied with Wydad on eight points with a single match to go - a home fixture when they welcome Horoya in about two weeks. The Brazilians have become a little familiar with their North African counterparts having also played them in the quarter-finals of last year’s tournament, which Wydad went on to win. But Arendse said that bit of history shouldn’t really have any influence on tonight’s match.
“Yes we need to give them some respect because they are the title holders, but obviously for us we look at them as a collective and recognise both their strengths and weaknesses. What we need to do at the end of the day is to execute the coach’s plans. He has given us a few pointers from the previous time we played them and we must not think about anything else. We know how important this stage of the competition is for us,” he said.