Home Sport Al Hilal are an open book to Sundowns

Al Hilal are an open book to Sundowns

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We’ve got a responsibility to make sure that we provide the players with as much information as possible.

Manqoba Mnqgithi, Rhulani Mokwena and Steve Komphela during the DStv Premiership 2020/21 football match against SuperSport United at Lucas Moripe Stadium earlier this year. Picture: Gavin Barker, BackpagePix

MAMELODI Sundowns are eager to hit the ground running in their group stage opener in the CAF Champions League on Saturday afternoon at home, having done intensive research on Sudanese counterparts Al Hilal Omdurman.

The Brazilians are participating in their record eighth successive group stage campaign, while they conquered the continent four years ago. But this is their first season in the competition without coach Pitso Mosimane, who left in October.

Co-coaches Rhulani Mokwena and Manqoba Mngqithi, however, were Mosimane’s understudies during that illustrious reign. So the duo didn’t have any problems in making it this far in the competition, their team brushing aside Jwaneng Galaxy 5-1 in the preliminary qualifiers.

“We always try to be extremely thorough with our preparations. We’ve got a responsibility to make sure that we provide the players with as much information as possible. I always say that preparation eliminates fear,” Mokwena said ahead of the clash at Loftus Versfeld Stadium.

“I always say that as a football player going into a match with the right amount of information about an opposition, it allows you to be free and express your ways. Of course, we’ve got certain principles in our game model.”

With home advantage paramount in this tournament, what are the key components of the Sudanese that the Brazilians will be wary of – considering they’ll be a different kettle of fish compared to Galaxy who were yet to start their domestic campaign?

“Al Hilal are not a closed book to us because we’ve watched their qualifiers,” Mokwena said. “We’ve got to be wary of them both in open play and transition where they orchestrate their attack through long balls behind the defence.”

Mokwena added: “Then (we’ve studied them) on set pieces because they’ve got a high physical profile where they are able to give you a few problems. We are prepared for them because we know a lot about them, they are not a closed book.”

Having missed a couple of centre-backs due to medical issues in recent weeks, Sundowns bolstered their squad with defender Rushine de Reuck from Maritzburg United on a five-year deal a fortnight ago.

But the 25-year-old is yet to make his debut for the club – he’s awaiting medical clearance. However, Mokwena confirmed that “De Reuck started training this week. He started training with us on his birthday (Tuesday). He’s registered for CAF and should be available for selection”.

Sundowns, though, will know that to qualify for the knockout stage – in a group that has Hilal, TP Mazembe and CR Belouizdad – they’ll need a potent attack, having depended primarily on Peter Shalulile in recent domestic matches.

The team’s inability to score goals for fun though has raised questions over the whereabouts of striker Mauricio Affonso who showed glimpses of scoring prowess after regaining full match fitness in 2019 – with his brace winning Sundowns the Telkom Knockout last term.

“He’s got a few muscle related issues and we are trying to make sure we resolve the problem because it is one thing to rush his rehabilitation and get him back on the pitch,” said Mokwena, adding that the Uruguayan has started light training.