Mamelodi Sundowns fell to Stellenbosch in the Nedbank Cup by a score of 2-1 on Saturday evening at Athlone Stadium. Masandawana started strongly, taking the lead in the first half through Aubrey Modiba’s strike that was eventually put at the back of the net by the Stellies keeper. The home team found their way back into the battle when Iqraam Rayners netted a brace from two defensive errors in Downs’ half, Head Coach Rulani Mokwena suggested that the home side deserved their win and made use of the opportunities they had.
“I thought we lost a lot of the duels, and it’s just been very difficult to find a bit of rhythm in our passes. They forced us into mistakes and we made two big mistakes, they punished us. Today we didn’t have the rhythm and this competitive intensity, but we’ll get it right. I am very proud of the players, what they have done this season has been incredible and as I have said so many times, despite the pressures, despite how difficult it is, it’s very tough at the moment. We play against every opponent who has time to prepare for us and we only have one or two days to prepare for an opponent physically.”
“Opponents only play one game per week, of course the element of freshness comes in and you could see it in certain moments today. Tactically they had time to review and come up with plans and solutions, and you can see it also with all the oppositions that we’ve played so far. But it’s not for us to find excuses, there’s no excuses, we have to win football matches and when we don’t win, we have to see why we didn’t win. In moments that are a little bit like this, you think if the opponent is better, you take the defeat and you move.”
The Brazilians are widely known for their goal scoring abilities and winning attitude in the domestic league, however the Tshwane giants have only won one game this month and recorded three consecutive draws before heading into the Nedbank Cup clash. Downs Head Coach, Rulani expressed the foreign atmosphere that has entered into the team, he said: “It’s a feeling we don’t want to get used to. It’s a feeling that doesn’t sit well with us but okay, it’s part of the game and it’s part of football, you win, lose or draw.”
“We lost a very important game, a game that we knew we could not lose but that’s the life of big teams and we have to get used to it. What I will echo, not a lot of credit is given to this team for the amount of work that they’ve done, and for being clearly (in my opinion and maybe for them it’s enough) the best team in the league. And when you hear opposition coaches who also have a competitive streak in themselves, saying that clearly they’re the second best team in the country, it is because Sundowns is the benchmark and by far the best team in the country, but that’s not good enough, you’re only as good as your last performance in football.”
“We’ve got to prove every single day, every single training session and every single match that we are the best team in the country and that means we have the responsibility and the pressure of playing under that mark with that tag behind us. It’s not easy, it’s the hardest thing but it’s the best thing to give you the competitive urge. Unfortunately we didn’t have that today and we lost to a better side on the day.”
Masandawana recently retained their DStv Premiership title for a record six times in a row, the earliest title win in PSL history with seven games in the league still left to play. Throughout the season, Bafana Ba Style have been incredible and have completed a record-breaking winning streak of 15 games and could still go on to set new records for themselves. Coach Rulani clarified how difficult it is to win the league, he said:
“The hard one always is the league, that’s a competition where you have to be consistent to win it. It’s not always the best team that wins the cup, sometimes you need the rub of the green to be able to get the results and I feel like today, even though I thought they were better than us, they had more luck than us.” Said Coach Rulani.
“We had a couple of shouts from the first half, that offside call for Peter [Shalulile] was marginally offside, if offside at all. Very, very close incidents for penalty shouts for us in the second half with the hand ball but it doesn’t fall on our side, these things happen in football. I’ve never spoken about the referees and I will never do it now, because when we win I say nothing about the referees, and so when we lose I can not make them responsible and start talking about them, but this is the situation and this is what happened.”