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Love in Casablanca

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“It was a good game, Wydad is a strong team and we still have respect for them.”

AT the heart of what is fast becoming the biggest rivalry in the Caf Champions League between Mamelodi Sundowns and Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca is respect and love.

Wydad supporters, who have had their fights with Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane, chanted the name of the former Caf Coach of the Year after their goalless draw in Casablanca on Saturday.

Mosimane basked in the love he was showered with. He displayed the W sign of Wydad, thumped his heart and then flashed a heart sign to return the love. Mosimane passionately saluted Wydad’s bench, hugging some players and engaging in banter with others. Having met nine times since 2017, it’s not surprising that the two clubs are now on a first-name basis.

Elusive win

But when the match starts, no one gives an inch. A win in Morocco continues to elude Mosimane, but unlike in the four previous visits, this time around the Brazilians left with a draw.

“The game came out the way we expected,” Mosimane said. “The game between Wydad and Sundowns is always like this. I would have preferred a 1-1 or 2-2 draw because a beautiful game like this must have goals, especially since we are still in the group stage and the away goal isn’t a huge factor.

“We started better. It was a game of two halves. We took the first half and in the last 15-20 minutes of the second half, Wydad put a lot of pressure on us. But we were defending very clean and we didn’t make mistakes because we normally make mistakes.”

The draw puts Sundowns firmly in control of Group C after two matches. The Brazilians are on four points, while Wydad are on two. Algeria’s USM Alger also have two points, while Petro de Luanda have one point.

So far Mosimane’s predictions that Wydad and Sundowns will advance to the knockout stage is taking shape.

Sundowns will play USM Alger back-to-back in their next two matches, while Wydad will face Petro de Luanda. The 2016 and 2017 Champions League winners are likely to create daylight between them and USM and Petro after those rounds of matches.

“We tried to go with the speed behind them, but Wydad pulled back because we are fast,” Mosimane said. “But that gave us space in midfield to play and we controlled the ball in midfield. If we took the chance that we got in the first half, maybe it could have been different.

“It was a good game, Wydad is a strong team and we still have respect for them.”

Wydad coach Zoran Manojlovic paid Mamelodi Sundowns a glowing tribute after the goalless draw and is looking forward to what will be another tightly-contested match when Wydad visit Pretoria for their last group game on January 31.