JOHANNESBURG – Hlompho Kekana fired a loud warning shot at AS Togo-Port, telling the Togolese side that they will come up against a different Mamelodi Sundowns in their CAF Champions League tie in Lome tomorrow.
AS Togo-Port host the Brazilians at Stade Minicipal at 3pm South African time in their third match of the Champions League group stages.
Both teams have started slow. The Togolese side is yet to pick up a point in their first appearance in the group stage of the continent’s premier cup competition. The Brazilians have just two points from their first two matches, putting them behind Wydad Casablanca and Horoya who are both on four points.
This is Sundowns’ worst start in the group stage of the Champions League. Last year they collected four points from their first two matches and in 2016 they were on six points at this stage.
“There were a lot of games in a very short space of time,” Kekana said in defence of their slow start. “Most of our focus was on reclaiming our league. We knew that it was going to be difficult juggling both because we had to win at least one trophy here at home because we haven’t done that in some time. We last won a trophy in the domestic league in 2016 and we didn’t win anything here last season. That put us under pressure.
“That’s why we didn’t start well in the Champions League because we were focusing on winning most of our league games towards the end of the season so that we secure the league title before the start of the group stage.
"Now we are back, well-rested and fully focused on the Champions League. This is a difficult tournament that takes a lot of energy and focus. I love playing in the Champions League because there are a lot of lessons that we take there. At least we collected two points. That’s better than nothing.”
Kekana and company have been in Lome since Friday. They have trained on an artificial pitch in preparation for what they will play on tomorrow. The mathematics are simple for Sundowns, win the back-to-back matches against AS Togo-Port to sit in a comfortable position in Group C as Horoya and Wydad will cancel each other out in their back-to-back contests.
The Brazilians are coming off a short break after ending last season on a high by lifting their eighth league title in the PSL-era. That title guaranteed them Champions League football for a fifth year in a row - something that no other South African team has achieved.
That consistent appearance in the Champions League comes with its challenges, like being the last team in the country to go on a break and the first to be back to competitive football. But the 33-year-old Kekana, who has featured prominently in those campaigns, doesn’t mind.
“We had this talk when we started the Champions League in 2015 that we want to be the generation that brings a lot of glory to Mamelodi Sundowns,” Kekana said. “That demands a lot of energy from our bodies and sacrifices in regards to spending time with our families.
We just want to try and do well for the club in the time that we have at Mamelodi Sundowns. Obviously we don’t have enough time to do certain things but we appreciate the time we have in football.
We can’t complain about the short breaks. We chose football. We love football so we have to do what we have to do.”@NJABULON