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Downs are never out

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Sundowns’ strength in the final stretch was evident last season when they went toe-to-toe with Orlando Pirates in a fight for the title

YOU would think that having been at Mamelodi Sundowns for more than seven years Pitso Mosimane would know the club like the back of his hand. But there are things about the Brazilians that still stump Jingles, like why the club tends to start slowly.

The best explanation that Mosimane could offer on the phenomenon was that because they finish the season later than most teams, due to their CAF Champions League commitments – before the CAF calendar was changed, they start pre-season later than those teams so they are still not at their peak when the season starts compared to their opponents.

But once they get going, they are unstoppable – especially towards the end of the season.

That’s why Mosimane could say this with confidence: “We can go five (wins) in a row (towards the end of the season), that I can guarantee you. But let’s see, this thing (league race) can be interesting, a good finish,” Mosimane said.

Sundowns’ strength in the final stretch was evident last season when they went toe-to-toe with Orlando Pirates in a fight for the title.

The Buccaneers were in the driver’s seat. If they won their last five games they would be champions. They slipped up against Cape Town City in their penultimate game.

Sundowns won all their games and they were crowned champions for a record ninth time in the Premier Soccer League-era.

Their elimination in the Champions League and Kaizer Chiefs’ slip-up against AmaZulu will make for an interesting battle in the league race.

Chiefs are seven points ahead of Sundowns who have played two games less. The two teams also have to play against each other on April 15 in what will be a mouth-watering clash.

The disappointment of being eliminated from the Champions League will fire Sundowns to fight for a top-two finish which would return them to continental football. What the club has done well is bounce back from disappointment under Mosimane.

When they were eliminated in the 2016 Champions League, and failing to get past the CAF Confederation Cup play-offs when they were demoted there, the club bounced back to win the Champions League when they were re-instated.

What Mosimane does well is make Sundowns believe that they are fighting against the world, motivating his players to give their all to beat the “system”. His comments about Chiefs “benefiting” was a calculated move to put a magnifying glass on referees and also ensure that they think twice about making big calls in Chiefs’ favour – who are Sundowns’ biggest threat in their fight to retain the league.

Al Ahly did the same thing following the appointment of the no-nonsense Bakary Papa Gassama as the referee of their second leg cash in the Champions League. The Gambian was clearly affected by that action as he was too lenient on the Egyptians.

Sundowns’ other motivation is to return to Champions League football, to do that they must finish either first or second. The club has consistently been in that space since 2015, and they will fight hard to achieve that and return to a tournament where they have unfinished business.

Football fans must buckle up, we are in for an entertaining race to the finish.