Home Sport Major confidence-booster for Sundowns as they scoop AFL title

Major confidence-booster for Sundowns as they scoop AFL title

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Granted, the African Football League is not really the Champions League but when you’ve got the better of Petro de Luanda, Al Ahly and Wydad you have surely done alright.

Sundowns players celebrate lifting the trophy after the African Football League 2023 final against Waydad at the Loftus Stadium, Pretoria on the 12 November 2023. Picture: Muzi Ntombela, BackpagePix

IT COULD not and should not have gone any other way, right?

Rulani Mokwena had said before the match that it was ‘written in the stars’ and that all his Mamelodi Sundowns side had to do was make sure they align those stars.

And the Brazilians duly did as they beat Wydad Athletic Club 2-0 at Loftus Versfeld to win the inaugural African Football League (AFL) that was conceived by Patrice Motsepe, the CAF president who is first and foremost the owner of Sundowns, 3-2 on aggregate.

Somewhat cruelly ‘denied’ the opportunity to win the CAF Champions League a second time earlier this year when they bowed out to Wydad at the semi-final stage via the away-goals rule, despite being unbeaten throughout, Sundowns set out to make amends.

And when Motsepe launched this eight-team tournament, Mokwena saw it as an opportunity to give his players that ‘deserve a continental title’ a shot at some sort of African glory.

Granted, it is not really the Champions League but when you’ve got the better of Petro de Luanda, Al Ahly and Wydad you have surely done alright.

It was not a given that they’d be successful, not after they’d lost the first leg 2-1 last weekend. There was another barrier too, the psychological one from having failed to beat Wydad at Loftus back in March.

And for a good while in the first half at Loftus yesterday, it appeared as though the Moroccans would spoil the party just as they’d done a few months ago when Sundowns looked to give their dearly departed former PRO Alex Shakoane a good send-off.

In a scrappy first half that was characterised by the Wydad players continuously faking injuries in a bid to while away time, the breakthrough came in added time when Peter Shalulile reacted quickly to slot home the loose ball after Mehdi Maftah had parried Teboho Mokoena’s attempt.

The Namibian was playing in his first match of the competition, having been out injured. But he showed his worth as the Sundowns talisman with that strike and he actually should have scored a brace.

Three minutes into the second half Shalulile pounced on a back pass but he failed to round the keeper when the chance to make it 2-0 was there for the taking. Four minutes later, though, the lead was extended when Aubrey Modiba intercepted a sloppy Wydad pass and made a run for it before coolly dinking the ball over Maftah to send the capacity crowd that painted Loftus yellow into delirious celebrations.

But there was a long way to go in the match still and Sundowns needed to prove their mettle defensively and they did well to keep Wydad a bay, the Moroccans hardly threatening Ronwen Williams’s goal.

It was a fantastic win for Mokwena and his men, particularly given that they’d been beaten in the local MTN8 final by Orlando Pirates. To win what is essentially the continental top-eight tournament is sure to see them approaching the CAF Champions League group stages starting in a fortnight with great confidence.

Mokwena has continuously said Sundowns were worthy of at least reaching the final last season. He has a great opportunity to prove that much this time around and this victory will be a major confidence booster.

Matshelane Mamabolo

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