Home Sport Away goal in the bag is an asset, says Sundowns’ Rulani Mokwena

Away goal in the bag is an asset, says Sundowns’ Rulani Mokwena

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‘We scored an away goal, which will be important for us in the second leg. I’ve got to congratulate my players for their courage and the spirit with which they approached the second half’ – Rulani Mokwena.

Mamelodi Sundowns head coach Rulani Mokwena says that having an away goal against Wydad Athletic Club could work in their favour. Picture: EPA, KHALED ELFIQI

RULANI Mokwena took Mamelodi Sundowns’ 2-1 defeat away to Wydad Athletic Club in the first leg of the African Football League (AFL) final on the chin and chose to rather look at the positives in anticipation of Sunday’s second leg decider in Pretoria.

The Brazilians scored a first-half own goal via Rivaldo Coetzee, before they equalised through a Abdelmounaim Boutouil penalty kick, only to allow the Moroccans to get back ahead five minutes later via a fantastic long-range shot by substitute Anas Serrhat.

Speaking at the post-match media conference, the Sundowns coach praised his team for showing “very good character against good opponents under pressure from intense fans” and predictably celebrated the fact that his team found the opposition net at the Stade Mohamed V.

“We scored an away goal, which will be important for us in the second leg. I’ve got to congratulate my players for their courage and the spirit with which they approached the second half,” Mokwena said.

“In the first half we were under pressure, although structurally we did not concede too many chances. We were unlucky with the own goal, though we were a little deeper than we would have liked to. We lost a bit of structure.”

The defeat was Sundowns’ first not only in the African Football League, where they had hitherto not conceded a goal in four matches, but also in continental competition since Mokwena took sole charge of the team.

They were unbeaten in last season’s CAF Champions League campaign but failed to reach the final of that competition after losing out to the same Wydad in the semi-final via the away goals rule.

They will hope to dish out the same treatment to their adversaries this time around and to achieve that, Sundowns have to simply win 1-0 on Sunday afternoon to make the aggregate score 2-2.

They will then become the inaugural winners of the competition initiated by their club owner Patrice Motsepe in his capacity as CAF president. Beat Wydad and Sundowns will also bank a cool $4 million, which is the equivalent of nearly R73m.

On the strength of Sunday’s showing, there can be no denying that this tie is hanging on a knife edge and can go either way.

While they were put under pressure in the first half, Sundowns did hold their own and could have done better in defending the move that led to Coetzee’s own goal.

Boutouil could have been a little tighter on the dangerous Montassir Lahtimi and Lesiba Nku would have served his team better by jockeying the Wydad winger instead of allowing himself to be fooled into a turn via a clever shimmy.

Mokwena is a wily coach, though, and knew exactly what they did wrong, and you can bet on him working on eliminating those costly mistakes in the second leg.

Sundowns will continue to cross fingers and pray that their out-and-out strikers Peter Shalulile and Lucas Ribeiro are available for the Sunday’s clash.

From past experience, they will know too well not to see the scoreline as an advantage given that in the 2019 CAF Champions League semi-final, they failed to score the requisite one goal after losing 2-1 away.

Matshelane Mamabolo

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