Mokwena gives the credit to Sundowns players after reaching AFL final
Humble coach says he is the least important person in the club
In true Rulani Mokwena style, Mamelodi Sundowns’ wunderkind coach has refused to bask in glory despite leading the club to the African Football League (AFL) final.
Sundowns confirmed their place in the final of the inaugural continental showpiece when they held continental giants Al Ahly to a goalless draw in the semifinal second leg in front of a vociferous crowd in the Cairo International Stadium cauldron on Wednesday.
Downs won the first leg at Loftus Versfeld 1-0.
The six-time successive SA champions meet Moroccan giants Wydad Athletic in the two-legged final of the Confederation of African Football’s super-lucrative new competition in North Africa on Sunday and Pretoria on November 11.
Mokwena gave the glory to his players for the exceptional shift they managed in Cairo.
Downs rode a measure of luck in the first half, when goalkeeper Ronwen Williams saved a 16th-minute penalty he created fouling Bafana Bafana teammate Percy Tau, and being saved by the post when he spilt a cross, then shut Ahly out in the second 45 minutes.
“I consider myself the least important person at Mamelodi Sundowns. The game of football belongs to the players,” said Mokwena.
“Going into the final means a lot to the club and because I’m a part of it and an employee, what matters to the club, matters to me.
“It’s a collective achievement, from the supporters to the management, the technical team who worked hard with the players and everyone involved with the club.”
Sundowns, who finished the game with one man down after Junior Mendieta was shown red in the 83rd minute for a shocking challenge on Akram Tawfik, defended well for the duration of the match and credit must also go to goalkeeper Williams.
“When you play Al Ahly in front of 50,000 fans you are going to suffer without the ball a lot,” said Mokwena.
“So in those moments we asked our players to stick together and suffer together and show humility.
“But we knew we would have possibilities to again have possession and be strong.
“That’s why I give so much credit to the players for an unbelievable fight and a great show of character.”
Sundowns overcame the quarter and semifinal syndrome they have displayed in the Champions League since their 2016 triumph.
In Wydad, they meet a nemesis team responsible for many of those knockout stage exits, including narrowly eliminating Downs in the semis of last season’s Champions League.
Downs and Wydad will battle it out for a R75m first prize in the inaugural AFL final.
Eight teams are competing in the pilot AFL in its first season and it is expected to be expanded to 24 clubs next year.
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