Mamelodi Sundowns exited the CAF Champions League with a 2-2 draw to holders Wydad AC in the second-leg semi finals in Pretoria. Themba Zwane and Peter Shalulile scored second-half goals but the North African team pulled two goals from set piece plays and went on to advance to the finals of the prestigious competition courtesy of the away goal rule that favored them from the previous scoreline of 0-0 in the first leg at the Stade Mohamed V.
“[This was] A typical Champions League game, two very good sides. I think I have to congratulate the football club for having a good run in the Champions League, it’s a difficult competition. Congratulations to Wydad on progressing and wishing them all the best in the final. We end with having won a lot of hearts but of course not good enough, so we’ve got to galvanize strength and pick ourselves up and go again next season.” Said Masandawana’s Head Coach Rulani Mokwena after the match.
The Brazilians had very presentable opportunities in the opening stages of each half and took the lead twice in the game, but an own goal from midfielder Mothobi Mvala in the closing stage of the encounter sealed victory for the visitors. Coach Rulani expressed admiration for his troops despite the disappointment of not going through to the next round, he said:
“They know I love them more actually today, in the good and the bad we stick together. That’s why I’m here and that’s why the club has entrusted me with this responsibility. It’s not so much in the good moments, it’s actually in the bad moments that I’ve got to step up. First [I must] take the responsibility then try to allow the players to feel it, we’ve got to feel it because it’s the pain that will push us to the next level.”
“What I can say is that I am extremely proud of the players. I am proud that in a very difficult competition we’ve finished unbeaten against some strong opponents, but of course there’s an element of disappointment which probably overrides. Maybe it’s only time that will reveal whether or not we are making the necessary progress to be able to be good enough and maybe reach a level of perfection as needed, to be able to compete and fiercely compete for this competition. But I trust the process, I trust this group, they’ll be better and stronger next season, they’ll have more experience and we will go again and try to make this dream a reality.”
Coach Rulani went on to pronounce the desire and determination to win the African trophy: “We will continue with this dream and we will win the Champions League, but it might not be this season of course. It might not be the next season but eventually we will win the Champions League and we will win it playing the way of the club, its supporters and its culture because if you want to change the style of football then you’ve got to take out quite a lot of what speaks to this club.”
At the beginning of the new year, Downs made an announcement that a new coach was appointed in order to improve and help the team to achieve success with set-pieces, following the manner in which Wydad booked their ticket into the finals, Coach Rulani shared light on the importance of the new department added.
“We have identified one of the major strengths as to why the champion’s league trophies have gone to the north [and] it is because of that [set-pieces], but it’s not the only reason. Part time what I think was a big determining factor was the experience and you could see it, but that is not something that you have to go and buy. It’s not something that you can get a coach in to deal with, that is something that the players have got to go through and learn from and for sure next season we will be stronger.”
“What is clearly evident is the fact that we haven’t been in the semifinals of a very difficult and important competition for the last three years, and so the gains are evident even though they are marginal. The mistakes are evident and even though they are marginal, but this game that we play in this competition in particular doesn’t allow for mistakes because you get punished.”