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Expectations weigh heavily on Sundowns coach ahead of Nedbank Cup clash against Maritzburg

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Rulani Mokwena’s concerns are surprising since Sundowns, six-time winners of the cup, have far and away the strongest squad in South African football.

Rulani Mokwena coach of Mamelodi Sundowns is looking to take a step closer to reclaiming the Nedbank title when they go head-to-head with Maritzburg on Sunday. Picture: Ayman Aref, NurPhoto, NurPhoto via AFP

Herman Gibbs

YEARS of success in the domestic arena and on the continent have left Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena lamenting that every time the team plays, they expect to win.

Mokwena was speaking ahead of the Nedbank Cup Round of 16 clash taking place at 6pm on Sunday evening against Maritzburg United at the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville.

Sundowns are hardly likely to raise a sweat against the second-tier Motsepe Foundation Championship side. However, Maritzburg showed their competitive edge with a 3-0 win over Paarl United in a Round of 32 clash.

Mokwena’s concerns are surprising since Sundowns, six-time winners of the cup, have far and away the strongest squad in South African football.

“These games are very tough, and the difficulty is that everybody expects you to win,” Mokwena said. “The pressure is on us and you have to perform on the day, and it is not easy.

“You have to be prepared and ensure that mentally you are in the right space. The players have to get into the expectation of the right performance. If we can perform at that level, then we’ll be fine.”

Mokwena lauded the televising of the first division matches, saying it has made it easier for them to record and analyse their opponents.

“I have to give credit to our technical team, specifically our analysis department. They have loaded most of Maritzburg’s games. We have spent a bit of time trying to prepare and see exactly how they set up. The difficulty is that sometimes you prepare for a certain way of playing, and then they come in the cup games and change completely, but we are confident.”

Sundowns are looking to take a step closer to reclaiming the Nedbank title when they go head-to-head with Maritzburg on Sunday.

“They are a good team with PSL experience and very good players. They also have a very good coach who has extensive experience in this competition and the PSL,” Mokwena said.

The “Team of Choice”, as Maritzburg is popularly known, is struggling to push for the NFD title and earn a ticket back to the Premiership. They are 10th on the table and the Nedbank Cup provides an opportunity to make up for their struggles in the league.

Maritzburg coach Simo Dladla says meeting Sundowns is “motivation on its own”. He said the players would raise their level because everyone in the squad wanted to face all-conquering Sundowns, making competition for places fierce.

“It is a terrible draw for us, looking at where we are and where Sundowns are, and everything they have with the quality that is there,” said Dladla.

“I believe we have talent and this year we have turned the corner in terms of our performances.

“I have already benefited from the draw as a coach because every player wants to play in this game.”

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