Veteran Downs draw Young Africans

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena will arguably be pleased with their CAF Champions League quarter-final opponents. | BackpagePix

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena will arguably be pleased with their CAF Champions League quarter-final opponents. | BackpagePix

Published Mar 13, 2024


MAMELODI Sundowns’ path to a second CAF Champions League title appears a little easier after they were drawn to play against Tanzania’s Young Africans in the quarter-finals.

Winners in 2016, the multiple South African champions have been trying in vain since to be crowned champions, the closest they got being the last season when they lost to Wydad Casablanca on the away goals rule following a 2-2 draw at Loftus Versfeld after the first leg match in Morocco had ended goalless.

Sundowns have since won the inaugural African Football league (AFL), an achievement that has seen them being installed favourites by many to win this year’s Champions League.

And they have justified that lofty billing via an impressive round-robin phase performance, which saw them win their group three points ahead of second placed TP Mazembe.

And with their nemesis Wydad being knocked out in the group stage, hope springs eternal that the team – coached by Rulani Mokwena – can add a second star above the club’s crest.

The quarter-final draw on Tuesday afternoon was ‘favourable’ to Sundowns as they avoided a potential clash with Esperance, who were the only top seed to not win their group. The Tunisians, however, loom large as a potential semi-final opponent, should they beat Asec Mimosas.

In Young Africans, the Brazilians will be up against a team they should know pretty well – the two clubs having often played pre-season friendly matches against each other in recent years. Granted, both sides underwent a lot of metamorphosis lately but such is their standing on the continent that Sundowns will be favourites to get the better of the team popularly referred to as Yanga.

What would be more pleasing to Sundowns is the fact they have avoided the trouble of long flying hours that come about with having to play in North Africa, for which they often have to take flights via Europe or Asia (Qatar/Dubai).

While Sundowns are regulars in the quarter-finals, the Tanzanian outfit are making their maiden appearance in the last eight of the continent’s premier club knockout competition.

Themba Zwane of Sundowns lifts the CAF Champions League trophy in 2016. | BackpagePix

They were, however, runners-up in the secondary CAF Confederation Cup last year and were pretty impressive in the group stage of this year’s Champions League. Most notable was the way they earned second spot behind Egyptian giants Al Ahly, who were drawn to face the other Tanzanian side in the competition, Simba.

Yanga are coached by former Sundowns coach Miguel Gamondi, the Argentinian who jointly led the Brazilians to the domestic championship with Neil Tovey in 2005/06.

Of course the current Sundowns is way too different from the one Gamondi worked with, but with their way of playing having remained true to the club’s culture, there is something to be said for Yanga having some ‘insight’ into the South African champions.

CAF Champions League quarter-finals draw: Simba v Al Ahly; TP Mazembe v Petro Luanda; Esperance v ASEC Mimosas; Young Africans v Mamelodi Sundowns (First legs: March 29-30; second legs: April 5-6)