JOHANNESBURG – It started with a desire to grow and led to Mamelodi Sundowns’ coach Pitso Mosimane finding the code to crack North African giants.
That’s how the Brazilians managed to get their impressive record against North African sides under Mosimane.
Sundowns defeated Zamalek to win the Caf Champions League, held their own against Esperance and frustrated ES Setif in their own backyard to a point that their supporters lost their cool and threw objects on to the pitch.
Sundowns continued that run with a 1-0 win over Moroccan side Wydad Casablanca on Sunday in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals.
The African champions arrive in Casablanca this afternoon, via Cairo, confident they will continue with their good run against North Africans to book a place in the semi-finals.
“I was at Safa with Bafana for five years,” Mosimane said. “I have learnt a lot about international football. That helps us a lot here. That’s why it is important to get experience and grow.
“That’s why I left SuperSport United to go to Bafana after spending seven years there. I could have stayed for 10-12 years at SuperSport.
“But I wanted to update my programmes and learn. We played against tough North Africans in my time as Bafana coach. You must frustrate them.
“You must understand the North African mentality. I know it very well. That’s the one part I wanted to know to grow as a coach.”
North African clubs are used to bullying their opponents on and off the field with their conduct and success. It unsettles them when those opponents stand their ground and take the fight to them.
Sundowns have given them as much as they got, which is why they have done so well against them. Mosimane and his bench stood their ground in a skirmish that saw the Wydad bench charge at them.
“We know the mentality,” Mosimane said. “You saw what happened. They came to our bench (to confront us). It’s not that they are bad. It’s their culture and mentality.
“ We played Zamalek in the final and they came to our bench. But in South Africa, if I went to the opposition’s bench, I would be sent to the stands. It’s okay, we understand this. It’s nothing. It doesn’t mean anything.
“These are North Africans, they have a short fuse. But my boys know this now. We went to Setif, Zamalek, Esperance and now we are going to these ones. It’s going to be a big fight there. We will give them what they got here.”
Wydad are forced to take the game to Sundowns in the second leg on Saturday night. They need two unanswered goals to advance to the next round.
The Moroccans will bank on their solid defence that’s unbeaten in this competition at home and is the foundation of their unbeaten run in their own backyard.
“We have to take care of Sundowns’ offensive players,” Wydad’s coach Hussein Amotta said. “But we also have to take more risks and attack them because we lost the ball a lot here. We didn’t create too many chances to score.
“We have to take more risks at home because it is the final game.
“Mamelodi have a good record away from home, so we have to balance how we defend and attack them.”