Home Sport Sundowns can revive their African ambitions with win over Richards Bay

Sundowns can revive their African ambitions with win over Richards Bay

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Every game that Mamelodi Sundowns be playing in the next few weeks – especially against a team such as the relegation-threatened Richards Bay – is important.

Mamelodi Sundowns head coach Rulani Mokwena. Picture: EPA, KHALED ELFIQI

Mihlali Baleka

Rulani Mokwena has one hurdle to overcome before he focuses on the bullish claim he made deep in the bowels of the Benjamin Mkapa National Stadium on Saturday.

Mamelodi Sundowns are arguably the team to beat in continental football after winning the inaugural African Football League (AFL) in December.

But Sundowns are nowhere near where they want to be in the CAF Champions League, following their goalless draw with Young Africans in the quarter-final first leg in Dar es Salaam at the weekend.

Masandawana won the tournament eight years ago and came close to repeating that feat last season, but they were denied by the away goals rule in the two-legged semi-final after drawing 2-2 with Wydad Casablanca.

A lot has changed since then, and Sundowns have ample reason to believe that they can go all the way and add another star above their crest. Those aspirations took something of a knock on Saturday night as they were held by Young Africans.

But such is the belief of coach Mokwena, he sees no reason why his team can’t get the business done at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Friday (8pm kick-off) and reach back-to-back semi-finals.

After all, the Brazilians know that for them to do well in continental football, they must make their home ground a fortress.

But before Mokwena can fulfil that bullish claim he made in Tanzania on Saturday, he says there’s a small matter they need to deal with on Tuesday night, when they face Richards Bay in the DStv Premiership (7.30pm).

“Of course, I think we will see Sundowns in the next round. I am very confident about that, in fact,” Mokwena said after the game in Tanzania.

“The plan is to get home safely, rest, drink lots of water, sleep, analyse the game and prepare for Richards Bay.

“We’ve got a very important league game on Tuesday. So, that’s the plan for now.”

Mokwena is right. Every game that they’ll be playing in the next few weeks – especially against a team such as the relegation-threatened Richards Bay – is important.

Momentum is part and parcel of the game, and having failed to score against Young Africans, Sundowns will need to bring their scoring boots on Tuesday evening.

A dominant showing from the team will go a long way in pleasing Mokwena, who was disappointed with his team’s first half in Dar es Salaam.

“We lacked a little bit of compactness. We couldn’t really put our foot on the ball and dominate the game. We lost so many duels,” Mokwena said. “We looked a little better in the second half. We played (with) a little bit with more intensity and tried to go forward. But we knew it was going to be difficult.”

Sundowns are likely to host the 15th-placed Natal Rich Boyz in the nation’s capital tonight without the services of Bongani Zungu. The midfielder was taken off on a stretcher in the first half against Young Africans due to a “muscular condition that he’s been struggling with”.

While Mokwena said they’ll wait for an update from the medical team, Zungu’s absence could be a big blow over the next few weeks as he was starting to hit form.

Sundowns, though, should be boosted by the return of captain Themba Zwane against Richards Bay and Young Africans after he didn’t feature on Saturday.

“He’s the captain of the team. He’s an important part of the team. Of course we missed him a little bit today (on Saturday),” said Mokwena of Zwane’s absence. Zwane played a starring role for Bafana Bafana during the Fifa break, scoring a brace in the thrilling 3-3 draw with Algeria last week.

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