Mokwena the mastermind as Sundowns grab Africa title
The coach led Downs to the African Football League title with a 3-2 aggregate win over Wydad Casablanca
Deep in the bowels of Loftus Versfeld, Rulani Mokwena came of age on a continental scale.
Regarded as one of the brightest coaches on the continent, Mokwena, 36, led Mamelodi Sundowns to the African Football League (AFL) title with a 3-2 aggregate win over bitter rivals Wydad Casablanca.
The Brazilians lost 2-1 in Casablanca last weekend but they turned the tables before a packed and raucous Loftus crowd that included Fifa president Gianni Infantino and his Caf counterpart Patrice Motsepe to win 2-0 on Sunday.
By winning this inaugural tournament that carries prize money of more than R74m, Mokwena has significantly increased his reputation as a continental coach and he will be a marked man in the Champions League.
Mokwena also erased bitter memories of earlier this year when Wydad arrived at Loftus to dump Sundowns out of the Champions League on away goals in the semifinal in which Mothobi Mvala scored an own goal.
Sundowns made three changes to the team that lost the first leg in Casablanca with Mosa Lebusa in for the injured Rivaldo Coetzee in the heart of the defence.
In attack, Mokwena sprang a surprise as he included talismanic attackers Peter Shalulile and Lucas Ribeiro for Thapelo Maseko and Lesiba Nku and he was vindicated.
Shalulile had not played since the MTN8 final defeat to Orlando Pirates in October and Ribeiro has not played since the Champions League qualifier against Burundian minnows Bumamuru in September.
Wydad prevented Sundowns from finding their rhythm in the opening exchanges as they closed down the spaces and did not allow Themba Zwane, Aubrey Modiba and Teboho Mokoena time on the ball.
Wydad central midfielders Zakara Draoui, Hicham Bousseffiane and Abdelah Haimoud came with the plan to disrupt combination play by Zwane, Modiba, Marcelo Allende and Mokoena.
The tactic worked as the clock went past the 40 minutes mark without Sundowns having registered a shot on target.
The other ploy that Wydad used was that their players started going down at every opportunity to frustrate Sundowns’ momentum and stop them from scoring before the break.
What also negatively affected Sundowns was the absence of utility player Coetzee who is usually influential in initiating their moves from the back.
Despite the frustrations, Sundowns somehow found the goal deep in first half optional time when Shalulile punished goalkeeper Yousseff El Motie who could not hold on to a thunderous shot from Teboho Mokoena.
Zwane found space on the left from where he laid the ball for Mokoena and the Bafana Bafana midfielder unleashed a powerful shot that El Motie parried to Shalulile who did the rest.
Sundowns increased their lead when Aubrey Modiba cleverly put the ball beyond the reach of El Motie after he was allowed to control the ball in the box.
To manage the game during the closing stages, Mokwena introduced defender Brian Oynango for Shalulile, while Terrence Mashego and Thapelo Maseko were introduced for a tired Modiba and Zwane respectively.
At the final whistle, Mokwena was lifted to the skies by members of his technical and substitutes teams as Wydad players surrounded referee Jean-Jacques Ndala to express their unhappiness.
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