JOHANNESBURG – There can be none of last week’s laboured start against Ajax Cape Town when Mamelodi Sundowns host Wydad Casablanca in the opening match of the Caf Champions League group stages.
While they did beat the Urban Warriors 3-1 to clinch their eighth league title since the advent of the PSL, Sundowns had to come from behind after conceding a goal just two minutes into the match.
Against a team as solid and experienced as the reigning African champions, starting on the back-foot would be suicidal.
“I don’t know what to say about Wydad,” said coach Pitso Mosimane as he looked ahead to tomorrow’s clash at the Lucas Moripe Stadium.
“It is like Espérance. Wydad versus Sundowns is often 0-0, 1-0 or 1-1. Whoever scores first is the one you can say is gonna win. Very, very tight.”
Their quarter-final clash over two legs last year was very tight indeed, each team winning 1-0 before the Moroccans knocked the South African holders out 3-2 in a penalty shoot-out.
They then went on to win the title of Africa’s premier club knockout competition.
Now Sundowns have to contend them again, this time in the group stages to progress to the quarter-final stage.
While he has knowledge of Wydad from last year’s encounter, Mosimane has not left anything to chance and has done thorough homework on the opposition - as he always does.
“I’ve been monitoring them, they were on a low but they are coming back. They’ve not lost a game in, I think, 15 games. They were somewhere at No 8 (in the Moroccan Botola) and now they are second. They’ve been moving up the log and they’ve changed the coach."
“They got the coach from Espérance (Faouzi Benzarti), the coach we played against when we played Espérance - he is now their coach.”
“That coach there, in that space (at pan-African club level), is a legend. He’s coached everybody in North Africa. He’s like a (Hassan) Shehata (the legendary Egyptian coach),” Mosimane said of the Tunisian, who has won the Champions League in 1994 and two Caf Super Cup titles, as well as a double in the Caf Cup.
“What I like about him, is that he plays an open game. He likes to attack. But we will see because normally when the North Africans come here, they slow us down and they’re not really interested in playing. They are often waiting to open the floodgates when we go to them.”
Logic would dictate then, that Sundowns open the floodgates here at home. But Mosimane is without his talismanic striker Percy Tau, who is suspended for this match.
“A good thing is that we have Khama (Billiat) back. He played his first match against Maritzburg and then he also played against Ajax. So Khama is coming in to replace Percy, he will go back to his old position of No 9, from where he has scored a lot of goals. We’ve also got Wayne Arendse coming back.”
Mosimane is hopeful that his team can turn things around and perform better at home than they did last year.
“Last year we were winning away, but at home we were not so good. We drew with St George, we lost to Espérance But when we won the Champions League (two years ago), we were winning at home, scoring two goals and, hopefully, we can go back to that.”
With the league title already secured, Sundowns should approach the continental competition without much pressure. And nothing will give them more confidence that beating the Caf champions in a match kicking off at the very strange time of 9pm.