Mamelodi Sundowns’ deep pockets ‘won’t matter’ in Dar es Salaam

Matias Esquivel’s big-money move to Mamelodi Sundowns attracted the attention of Young Africans coach Miguel Gamondi. Picture: BackpagePix

Matias Esquivel’s big-money move to Mamelodi Sundowns attracted the attention of Young Africans coach Miguel Gamondi. Picture: BackpagePix

Published Mar 28, 2024


IF Rulani Mokwena saw the comments made by his adversary Miguel Gamondi ahead of the CAF Champions League quarter-final first leg clash between Mamelodi Sundowns and Young Africans, he probably would have laughed.

Attempts at subtle gamesmanship do not come more obvious than those played by the Argentinian coach of the Tanzanian outfit that hosts the South African champions in Dar es Salaam on Saturday night (8pm kick-off, SA time).

Speaking to a Tanzanian publication, Gamondi talked up Sundowns’ chances and declared them favourites as he compared them to record continental champions Al Ahly of Egypt.

The man who previously coached Sundowns went that well- trodden path of pointing to Sundowns’ deep pockets as a way of illustrating just how unevenly matched the two teams are.

“Last time they bought one player from Argentina (Matias Esquivel), I think for $4 million, and we brought Guede and Okra for free in the last transfer window. This is the difference, and the people must understand.”

To his credit, though, Gamondi – who coached Sundowns between 2005 and 2006 – acknowledged that the wealth gap between the two clubs would not have much of an influence once the match kicks off.

“That doesn’t matter when the referee blows the whistle, it is 11 against 11,” he said.

Masandawana are definitely the favourites, and that status would have been further boosted earlier in the week, given the sterling performance of their skipper Themba Zwane, who scored twice to help Bafana Bafana draw 3-3 away to Algeria on Tuesday.

Expectations will be that “Mshishi” will carry that form into the Champions League tie to help the Brazilians get a comfortable first leg scoreline that essentially renders the second leg, to be played in Pretoria next Friday, academic.

With numerous other Sundowns players such as Ronwen Williams, Teboho Mokoena and Grant Kekana also having featured in that six-goal thriller against Algeria, Mokwena will hope that they arrive home without any injuries or niggles, before the club flies out to Tanzania.

As they seek to win the Champions League for a second time – having been crowned champions back in 2016 – the biggest threat to Sundowns’ quest for glory is fatigue and injuries to players who have played way too many matches in recent years.

Not that the Brazilians don’t have the depth to replace any player that is rendered unavailable by any of the aforementioned reasons while still produce great results.

He does, however, already have his established starting team that essentially got Sundowns to the last eight.

Logic would suggest he sticks with the winning team as he strives to overcome a Yanga outfit that are at this stage of the competition for the first time since the advent of the Champions League in 1997.

The Tanzanians were quarter-finalists back when the competition was known as the CAF Champions Cup in 1969 and 1970.

Nothing will please them more than to register their best Champions League run ever, and that will mean them knocking Sundowns out.

And Gamondi – his high regard for the club he led to the domestic championship back in 2006 notwithstanding – believes Yanga have it in them to send the Brazilians packing.

“We need to fight, to put in more effort than Sundowns. I am very positive, optimistic, and we will face Sundowns and we can create a surprise.”

Yet it won’t be easy to surprise a club coached by as meticulous a planner as Mokwena. You can bet Sundowns will take to the Benjamin Mpaka Stadium pitch knowing everything there is to know about their adversaries, and having a plan they will hope will render them ineffective.

And it has little to do with the fact that Mokwena coaches a team with deep pockets.