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Sundowns preparing for tricky trips up north

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Mamelodi Sundowns coach Manqoba Mngqithi says their Champions League group stage opponents will be a ’tricky affair’.

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Manqoba Mngqithi (right) says facing their Champions League group stage opponents will be a ’tricky affair’. Picture: Gavin Barker, BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – Mamelodi Sundowns coach Manqoba Mngqithi says playing against their Champions League group stage opponents will be a “tricky affair”, while he has also lauded the work put in by his team in their domestic campaign.

For the seventh successive season since returning to the pinnacle of South African football, the Brazilians will play in the group stage of the Pan-African competition – a tournament they won five years ago.

Sundowns’ route to the group stage was seamless, beating Jwaneng Galaxy 5-1 on aggregate in their two-legged qualifier. This was an impressive feat for the three wise men – coaches Mngqithi, Rhulani Mokwena and Steve Komphela.

However, the trio will know that their job is cut out for them as they will have to book their spot in the quarter-finals at the expense of Al Hilal of Sudan, TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo and CR Belouizdad of Algeria.

“It’s quite tricky. At this stage of the Champions League, you can expect anything,” Mngqithi said.

“But one would have probably liked to have direct flights, which is something we might not get. Lubumbashi (in the DRC) doesn’t have direct flights. In terms of opponents, it’s a tricky affair.”

After finishing second in the Sudanese Premiership last season, Mngqithi believes Al Hilal will pose the biggest threat in their group stage campaign, while he is also vigilant of usual suspects TP Mazembe and new kids on the blocks CR Belouizdad.

“Al Hilal at this stage and in my mind, is one team that is looking a little bit stronger,” Mngqithi said.

“The travelling to that side is not always the easiest. Let’s just hope that in our first match when we play them at home, we’ll get maximum points.

“Mazembe is always a tricky affair. We are fortunate that the supporters are not coming to the stadium; that environment can look hostile for youngsters and new players.

“Belouizdad are new kids on the blocks that we have to treat (them) very carefully.”

Mngqithi might be wary of the impact their travelling arrangements in the continental showpiece will have on their campaign, but their short trip from Chloorkop to Polokwane on Saturday was fruitful.

They beat Baroka FC 2-0 to consolidate their unbeaten start to the DStv Premiership.

Sundowns are at the summit of the league standings with 24 points thanks to seven wins and three draws in 10 matches.

Having reached their target of 12 points after every five matches, Mngqithi is pleased with the hard work that has been put in by everyone.

“Our planning for the season was that we wanted to bag 12 points in every five matches,” he said. “First circle, we got 13 points and in the second we got 11. We dropped one point in the second. But we got exactly what we wanted to achieve.

“One is very happy with the group. The coaches, players, analysts and everyone around the team has worked very hard. Our conditioning department has kept us strong.

“But this is just the beginning. We have a long way to go. We have to stay focused.”

IOL Sport