Everything Sundowns touch turns to gold
Their crowning as African Football League champions was a huge boost to Rulani Mokwena’s reputation as one of Africa’s brightest coaches
When he arrived for his post-match media conference at Loftus on Sunday, Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena didn’t realise he had a little confetti glitter on his nose.
It was not surprising because he had finished wild celebrations with his players after they were crowned inaugural African Football League (AFL) champions with a 3-2 aggregate win over Wydad Casablanca.
The Brazilians did it the hard way as they lost 2-1 in Casablanca but turned it around to win 2-0 in front of a raucous Loftus crowd that included Fifa president Gianni Infantino and his Caf counterpart Patrice Motsepe.
Sundowns’ 3-2 aggregate win was a huge boost to Mokwena’s burgeoning reputation as one of the brightest coaches on the continent as Downs pocketed the R74m prize money.
For many, that small piece of confetti may have been insignificant but it spoke volumes and mirrored the glittering performance Sundowns put on the field to beat this strong Wydad side.
Using their years of Champions League experience and intimate knowledge of the aggressive North Africa teams, Sundowns staged a performance for the ages to convincingly beat one of the best teams on the continent.
In a sparkling performance, the Brazilians absorbed early pressure from Wydad and went on to score two unanswered goals from Peter Shalulile and Aubrey Modiba.
Wydad, who lost to Al Ahly in the Champions League final last season, have vast experience in continental football and they know how to win high-stakes matches, but they hit a brick wall in the Pretoria heat.
In many ways, Sundowns gave Wydad a bitter taste of their own medicine as they resorted to time-wasting tactics during the closing stages with players easily going to ground and taking too long to restart dead balls.
After the match, Sundowns defender Mosa Lebusa admitted it is not their style to waste time but said they had to manage the game to their advantage. Even the ball boys came to the party as they played their part in breaking the attacking momentum of Wydad by sometimes delaying to bring the ball back into play.
Wydad’s players did not take kindly to Sundowns’ antics, but they conveniently forgot they were the ones who employed time-wasting tactics when the match situation favoured them.
Wydad came into the game with a plan of stopping Sundowns from finding their rhythm by not allowing Themba Zwane, Marcelo Allende, Aubrey Modiba and Teboho Mokoena time on the ball.
Sundowns recovered and they opened the scoring during the critical phase of additional time before the break from Shalulile while Modiba produced a moment of magic to dink the ball past Wydad goalkeeper Youssef El Motie.
It was a team performance by Sundowns with players like Ronwen Williams, Mothobi Mvala, Khuliso Mudau, Allende, Mokoena, Modiba, Zwane and Shalulile standing out.
It must be remembered that Sundowns also got the better of reputable Angolan side Petro Atlético and Egyptian giants Al Ahly on their way to the final. Now that they have conquered the AFL, next on the menu is the holy grail of the Champions League where they will be under pressure to return to the final for the first time since 2016.
As wild celebrations continued, Mokwena promised that his players will return to training and focus on the remainder of the campaign — they are still involved in three competitions.
In their in-tray, Sundowns still have the Premiership, the Nedbank Cup and the Champions League, and Mokwena knows better than anyone that they will want to win all three.
For now, just like that sparkling confetti on Mokwena’s nose, the Brazilians are basking in the glory of illuminating African football.
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