Mamelodi Sundowns secured their place in this year’s CAF Champions League group stage with a convincing 2-0 victory over the Burundian side, Bumamuru, in the second leg of the second preliminary round at Lucas Moripe Stadium on Saturday.
The Brazilians had already taken a significant step toward the group stages of Africa’s premier club competition, entering the match with a comfortable 4-0 lead from the first leg. Nevertheless, goals from Mothobi Mvala and Teboho Mokoena ensured a comfortable outing for the 2016 champions.
Coach Rulani Mokwena, who shared some exciting moments with the supporters after his side sealed a 6-0 aggregate victory, expressed his satisfaction with his team’s progression.
“Before you even speak about this group who have qualified for the group stages of the Champions League for nine seasons in a row, there must be big compliments for the previous groups that put the club there. There was a group that was led by [retired captain] Hlompho Kekana and there was a group that was led [before that] by Alje Schut and Ramahlwe Mphahlele. Those were fantastic groups and they need a lot of praise for putting the club there with the bare minimum of expectation.”
Coach Rulani continued, “During my time here as part of the technical team, we faced some very challenging qualifying games, such as the match against Chicken Inn from Zimbabwe (in 2016). These games can be potential stumbling blocks and if you do not respect your opponents and the games, you could find yourself in trouble. That is why it is crucial to commend this group for their mentality, professionalism and a consistent winning record. We are simply delighted to serve the club to the best of our abilities.”
The Sundowns head coach also insists that his side will not abandon the act of playing beautiful football while continuing their quest for continental success.
“The most important thing is to continue winning and that is the pressure we have at Mamelodi Sundowns. When we lost in the Champions League semi-final last season, people said that you can play badly and win, and we want you to win, and we don’t care how. I said, ‘No, we will do it a certain way,’ and I’m still in that space. We want to build a certain way of playing, but at the same time, we want to continue winning and that’s a collective effort. That involves training, playing and understanding of small details. It will come, but it takes a bit of time, especially when you have a lot of games, but we will improve,” the Downs coach added.
The Sundowns head coach also played down the severity of the early injury sustained by the in-form Brazilian forward Lucas Ribeiro Costa. “Not yet, he’s under assessment and we’ll see,’ Mokwena said. “But I don’t think it’s that serious.”
Coach Mokwena further showered praises on Aubrey Modiba, whose delightful cross was nodded home by Mvala.
“Modiba has had some very good performances this season and he deserves to play more games, and he has been so consistent this season. His versatility is a component of his game that excites me the most as well as his game intelligence. He can play on the back, second line, inverted position, as a left-winger and can even play as a number 10. But you know me, I don’t like singling out players, but I know he deserves to play more games.”
Although primarily a midfielder, Bongani Zungu was deployed in defense and he impressed as Sundowns kept a clean sheet, which was applauded by Coach Rulani.
“Bongani needs confidence and love and it will come. I have known him for a long time; he’s a good human being who loves the club. He played a different role and he adjusted quite well. He has struggled with injuries in recent times and he gives much more than what we see on the pitch. I am satisfied with where he is. He supports the youngsters off the pitch with his coaching skills and helps with translations sometimes because he speaks fluent French. He is such an important member of the squad and more games are coming up that will require his strong positional sense.”
The Johannesburg-born tactician responded with humility after he was praised by his uncle and South African football legend Jomo Sono.
“His [Sono’s] success is enough weight on my shoulders already, so part of what we try to do as individuals who belong to a group is to try to get ourselves to a level where the family can be proud. He knows I don’t only see him as an uncle and father, but also as an inspiration. Everything he has done, from his playing days to his coaching career – coaching Bafana Bafana, coaching at the World Cup and winning many trophies as a coach. Hearing such words, even though there are words I get to hear in private, from a legend like him, humbles me. Like they say, you only get to see further because you stand on the shoulders of giants. I can only become better by continuing to stand on his shoulders and appreciating the strength and hard work he has put in to blaze the trail for us as his kids,” Mokwena concluded.