A win will send a strong message to teams that are superpowers on the continent
“THIS is the best record we have ever had in the Champions League,” a bullish Pitso Mosimane said when he reflected on Mamelodi Sundowns’ performance in the group stage of Africa’s premier club football competition.
The Brazilians have collected more points (11) than ever before in the group stage of the CAF Champions League under Mosimane. They have done so with a game to spare, showing the dominant run they have had this season.
Sundowns are unbeaten in five matches in a group that features the 2017 African champions Wydad Casablanca, Petro de Luanda of Angola and Algeria’s USM Alger who reached the final in 2015.
The Brazilians now go into their last match against Wydad in Pretoria on Saturday confident not only because of their run but also because they hold all the aces in the fight for top spot.
This then leads to a key question, can Sundowns go all the way and win their second Champions League title?
“Every coach wants to win the tournament,” Mosimane said. “Every coach believes that they can win any match. It’s not easy. There are other teams that are very strong in this competition. Realistically, it is not easy to win this tournament.
“But you need to go as far as you can. Last year we went to the semi-finals, so we need to try.”
What’s more remarkable is that Sundowns are far from the well-oiled machine that conquered the continent in 2016.
They have had some teething issues in their rebuilding, but despite that they still had enough firepower to win the Absa Premiership last season and reach the last four of the Champions League.
Mosimane’s men are now hardened in the art of continental football, able to deal with fixture congestions, hectic travelling and all the gamesmanship they experience in their travels across Africa. The stubborn resolve in the team is what sees them able to do well even when they aren’t at their peak.
Winning the Champions League will take some doing though, which is why they need to beat Wydad on Saturday, not just to set a new club record for the most points in the group stage.
A win over their tough rivals will inject the side with confidence and send a strong message to teams like Esperance, Raja Casablanca, Zamalek and TP Mazembe who have also secured qualification for the knockout stage.
All these teams are superpowers on the continent, just like Sundowns who have reached the group stage of the Champions League for five consecutive seasons.
The arrival of Mauricio Afonso has given Sundowns a different dimension to their attack, having a strong centre forward who can bully defenders and has strong aerial strength.
His ability to also play the ball at his feet means that Sundowns don’t have to change much to accommodate the Uruguayan, something they struggled to do with Jeremy Brockie who came with much promise but didn’t live up to the billing.
Sundowns’ clash with Wydad, in their favourable afternoon kick-off, will give Mosimane a good test of whether they have what it takes to win a second Champions League or not.