Mokwena happy with teen Letlhaku's debut in Sundowns' cup win ...

18 Mar 2024

18 March 2024 - 13:19

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Sundowns - Figure 1
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Thembinkosi Lorch celebrates one of his goals with coach Rulani Mokwena in Mamelodi Sundowns' Nedbank Cup last 16 win against Maritzburg United at Lucas Moripe Stadium in Pretoria on Sunday night. Image: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena was happy his team gave another debut to a teenager in their 2-0 Nedbank Cup win against Maritzburg United and 17-year-old Kutlwano Letlhaku “made a difference”.

Highly-rated midfielder Letlhaku, signed from the School of Excellence in July last year, came on for Gaston Sirino in the 71st minute with the score at 0-0 and Sundowns pushing hard to break the deadlock.

Letlhaku, whose date of birth is reportedly March 25 2006, was 17 years, 11 months and 24 days old on his debut, which came eight days before his 18th birthday.

A brace from Thembinkosi Lorch (74th and 95th) earned Downs a last 16 win and place in the quarterfinals after Motsepe Foundation Championship Maritzburg had largely frustrated the Brazilians in the first half at Lucas Moripe Stadium but been on the back foot in the second.

Mokwena said he rested front-line stars including Ronwen Williams, Aubrey Modiba, Teboho Mokoena, Themba Zwane, Peter Shalulile and Lucas Ribeiro.

The coach spent more time than normal on his feet shouting instructions as his mostly fringe combination battled to gel in the opening 45 minutes.

“I had to help,” Mokwena said. “I asked for my soldiers at halftime and I thought they gave me that. We have to be patient [with Sundowns' fringe players, signings and youth products].

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“You have to be patient with [Bathusi] Aubaas, with [Matías] Esquivel, even with Lorch. He’s still not at his best, and that’s just my opinion but I think he can do more.

“But I’m happy that gradually I see improvements. With Peter [Shalulile coming off the bench] I saw a much livelier Peter, more confident.

“Mosa [Lebusa] I thought was good for 90 minutes, I’m happy for Denis [Onyango] with a clean sheet.

“Divine [Lunga] was a bit better in the second half; in the first half no aggression and bit too laboured [from him]. Lebo [Maboe], first half a bit too [laboured], very happy with the second half reaction.

“And I’m also happy for Kutlwano and I’m happy we were brave enough at 0-0 to put him in for a big team like Sundowns. And then he came on and made a big difference.

“But we still have to be patient. I asked for it last season with Cassius [Mailula] and eventually it paid off.

“The good thing is that while we are improving we are still winning.”

Mokwena said some of the Bafana Bafana stars among those he rested are also battling niggling injuries.

Williams, Modiba, Mokoena, Zwane, Grant Kekana and Thapelo Morena, who came off the bench against United, are included in national coach Hugo Broos’ squad for the friendlies in Algeria against Andorra (Thursday) and Algeria (March 26).

Mokwena suggested some of those players might not make the trip to Algeria to join the rest of the Bafana squad who left on Sunday.

He said star attacker Zwane was among Sundowns’ players rested though he is suspended for the Brazilians’ first leg of their Caf Champions League quarterfinal against Young Africans at Benjamin Mkapa National Stadium in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, on March 30.

“They were rested because they’ve got niggling injuries and that’s the truth,” Mokwena said.

“Are they injuries that are strong enough to keep them away from Bafana Bafana? I don’t know.

“I think as a club we’ve always supported the national team agenda and we will continue to do that. But [it helps Sundowns] if we can rest [some players] a bit, like ‘Mshishi’ [Themba Zwane], even though he’s suspended for Tanzania.”

Sundowns return to action from the Fifa date with the away opening leg against Young Africans, meet Richards Bay FC in a Premiership clash at Loftus Versfeld on April 3 and host the Tanzanians in the quarterfinal second leg at the same venue on April 5.


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