Rulani Mokwena doesn’t want regret to haunt Mamelodi Sundowns in CAF Champions League

‘We respect every opposition we play, and we know that (TP) Mazembe have incredible players,’ said Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena. | BackpagePix

‘We respect every opposition we play, and we know that (TP) Mazembe have incredible players,’ said Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena. | BackpagePix

Published Mar 1, 2024


The African Football League (AFL) title may have helped scratch the seven-year continental itch a little, but winning the inaugural eight-team CAF competition has essentially led to Mamelodi Sundowns having a target on their back as they seek to win the big one.

But Rulani Mokwena would not have it any other way.

He does, after all, believe that “we have proven that we are one of the best teams on the continent”, and being ‘marked’ comes with the territory.

And as he seeks to lead Sundowns to victory in the continent’s premier club knockout competition – the CAF Champions League – for the second time, the young coach relishes his side being the team to beat.

The Brazilians have already qualified for the quarter-finals going into the final round-robin match against TP Mazembe at the Lucas Moripe Stadium tomorrow afternoon (3pm kick-off), and need only beat the Democratic Republic of the Congo outfit to top the group.

Good as they have been in consistently making the knockout stages of the competition since being crowned champions back in 2016, the fact that Sundowns have not added a second star above the club’s crest has somewhat diminished their claim to being continental giants.

Mokwena, though, is not overly concerned by those views as he believes it is only a matter of time before he emulates his predecessor Pitso Mosimane by capturing the Holy Grail of African club football.

“We will eventually win the Champions League. We’ve just got to do the best we can. We’ve got to work hard and put ourselves in the position to receive,” he said during a pre-match media briefing at the club’s headquarters in Chloorkop yesterday, explaining that it is a biblical principle that God rewards those who put in the effort.

“The worst thing in life is to be presented with an opportunity and not be prepared, because the feeling of regret haunts you forever and ever.

“So, we have to be ready for the blessings that can be bestowed upon us via the amount of hours we put into this job.”

And given their AFL success, as well as the fact that the majority of his players were part of Bafana Bafana’s team that finished third at the recent Africa Cup of Nations, Mokwena knows that Sundowns are going to be targeted even more by the opposition.

“What it (the AFL success) does is give you a target on your back. You now carry this target on your back, and everyone wants the bragging rights to say we beat (the AFL champions),” Mokwena said.

“We could sense it in the atmosphere when we went to Mazembe (in the first round of the Champions League, where they lost 1-0).

“There was a very strong feeling of ‘we did it’ by Mazembe and their fans. For some teams, just to beat the AFL champions or Sundowns is as worthy as winning a trophy.

“It’s the responsibility that comes with winning, and that’s what I focus on (in my preparations) and try to make sure that we are a completely difficult team to play against.”

And part of making Sundowns a difficult team is to take every opponent seriously.

“We respect every opposition we play, and we know that Mazembe have incredible players,” he said, before going his typical route of rattling out names of players and their strengths to illustrate how ready they are for the match.

Though important in determining who tops the group, the clash with Mazembe is not a major one in the bigger scheme of things.

The continental football fraternity is eager to see if Sundowns can succeed where it matters most – winning the big one.

For as impressive and confidence-boosting as it was, the AFL triumph is not taken that seriously by most in Africa.

And Mokwena, though he has continuously talked the victory up, given the competition is the brainchild of his boss Patrice Motsepe – the CAF president who also owns Sundowns – knows in his heart of hearts that it is in winning the Champions League that he will confirm his and the club’s standing as continental giants.

And what better way to do that than by ending the seven-year itch?