Rulani Mokwena will analyse Sundowns' next opponent extensively ...

13 Mar 2024

Mamelodi Sundowns extended their unbeaten run in the domestic DStv Premiership to 42 games when they drew 1-1 with SuperSport United on Tuesday night.

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The result came just a few hours after Tanzanian outfit Young Africans, more commonly known as Yanga, were confirmed as the next hurdle Sundowns must surmount as they bid to clinch the Caf Champions League for just the second time in their history.

The two teams will clash over two legs for a spot in the semifinals. While the last time Sundowns failed to reach the quarterfinals was in 2018, this stage of the tournament is uncharted territory for Yanga. 

This time around they clung on to second spot in Group D to finish on eight points from their six games, with Al Ahly claiming top spot. 

Despite the fact that they have appeared in more than 10 editions of the competition, the Tanzanians have usually fallen in the preliminary qualifying round or the stage following that, which precedes the group stage. Nevertheless, Yanga is going to be a tough test for the South Africans.   

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Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena during a DStv Premiership match against AmaZulu FC at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on 27 February 2024. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

“My thoughts on the Champions League draw? I’m not so sure yet… Of course I watched the draw. But I don’t have immediate thoughts because I have to watch the opponent closely,” said Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena during a press conference.

Mokwena said the international break, set for next week, will be the perfect time for him to dig deep into Yanga and study their strengths and weaknesses.  

“I’ve watched all the games in the Champions League. But I’ve watched as a coach, not as an analyst. Now I have to switch. Fortunately, I’ve got a nice Fifa break where my focus will just be on Yanga. I will go as far back as I possibly can.”

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Despite swatting aside all challengers to their domestic dominance in the league, success in the Champions League has proven a tougher mountain for Masandawana to conquer.

Thapelo Morena of Mamelodi Sundowns and Mohamed Fathi of Pyramids FC during a CAF Champions League match at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on 10 December 2023. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Even this season they are coasting to the Premiership title unchallenged. They are yet to taste defeat after 18 league games, with 14 victories and just four draws. However, matches such as the draw against SuperSport have shown that there are chinks to be exploited in the shiny and expensive Sundowns armour.    

“We have to improve. The moment everything is perfect, there is no job for the coach. So, we have to improve. There are things that have to be fixed… That’s our work. It’s not going to be perfect in every match,” Mokwena said.  

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Yanga’s stars are coached by former Sundowns mentor Miguel Ángel Gamondi, who also managed another South African side, Platinum Stars, in the mid-2000s.

“Once you qualify for this stage, do not expect to face easy opponents. So, Mamelodi Sundowns are the type of opponent with whom we have no choice but to meet,” Gamondi was quoted as saying by Tanzania’s Citizen.   

Maxi Mpia Zengeli of Young Africans in a CAF Champions League match against Al Ahly at Benjamin Mkapa National Stadium in Dar es Salaam on 2 December 2023. (Photo: Frank Mpelumbe / Gallo Images)

Pacome Pedoh Zouzoua of Young Africans celebrates a goal against Al Ahly in a CAF Champions League match at Benjamin Mkapa National Stadium in Dar es Salaam on 2 December 2023. (Photo: Frank Mpelumbe / Gallo Images)

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The winner of this exciting tie will tackle the victor in the match between Tunisia’s Espérance and Ivorian outfit ASEC Mimosas.

On the other side of the draw, Yanga’s fellow Tanzanian side Simba will have the unenviable task of trying to eliminate 11-time African champions Al Ahly. The winner will tussle with either TP Mazembe of DR Congo or Angolan heavyweights Petro Atlético for a place in this season’s final.

The first legs of the last eight will be contested on 29 and 30 March, with the return legs scheduled for the following weekend. Venues and kick-off times are yet to be confirmed. DM

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