Downs must sweat to over­come Blood and Gold

As­sis­tant coach Mokoena con­fi­dent Brazil­ians have the depth and the tem­per­a­ment to undo two-time cham­pi­ons Esper­ance

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - MOHAU RAMASHIDJA

RHU­LANI MOKOENA, pic­tured, likened Mamelodi Sun­downs’ quest in de­fend­ing their Caf Cham­pi­ons League ti­tle, to a marathon race that will need to be based on short term goals, if they are to fin­ish it strongly.

And that’s be­cause the Sun­downs’ as­sis­tant coach knows that the sta­tus of be­ing the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons comes with hav­ing a tar­get on your back at all times, with ev­ery side you play against be­ing highly mo­ti­vated to beat you.

Sun­downs’ first short term goal was to make sure that they qual­i­fied for the group stages when they locked horns with Kam­pala Cap­i­tal City Author­ity of Uganda in the first round of the qual­i­fiers in March.

They did that af­ter beat­ing them 3-2 on ag­gre­gate.

Drawn into Group C, Masan­dawana had a slow start, play­ing to a 0-0 draw against Ethiopia’ Saint Ge­orge.

In that en­counter, the Brazil­ians lacked the cre­ative spark they are known for in the fi­nal third, with the likes of hard-work­ing Hlom­pho Kekana, Khama Bil­liat, Teko Modise and Sibu­siso Vi­lakazi strug­gling mas­sively to un­lock their op­po­nents’ de­fence. But the Pa­trice Mot­sepe­owned side soon turned the cor­ner in their sec­ond group match, when they played AS Vita away from home. They beat the Con­golese out­fit 3-1 in Kin­shasa, a re­sult which sees them cur­rently com­mand the helm of their group table, equal on four points with their op­po­nents to­mor­row, Esper­ance Sportive de Tu­nis.

Mokoena said it was cru­cial that they fought for their sec­ond win of the group en­coun­ters when they host the Blood and Gold at Lu­cas Moripe Sta­dium (kick-off 8pm), as that re­sult would see them gain pole po­si­tion in their fight to qual­ify for the next round of the com­pe­ti­tion.

“It’s very im­por­tant that we win this match,” Mokoena said. “We didn’t do that when we hosted Saint Ge­orge in our first group game. But, we man­aged to bounce back in our match against AS Vita. And that’s the beauty about work­ing with ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers. You can set spe­cific tar­gets on which matches are a must win for you guys, and which matches you should fight to avoid a defeat and set­tle for a draw. We went to Kin­shasa with the hope of com­ing back with a pos­i­tive re­sult and we did that by pro­duc­ing max­i­mum points there.

“Our fo­cus is now set on push­ing for a sim­i­lar re­sult against Esper­ance in this tie,” Mokoena added. “A win would see us stand­ing on seven points be­fore we travel to Tu­nisia for our sec­ond leg meet­ing against them there and we want that.

“We want to progress to the next round of this com­pe­ti­tion.”

Mokoena added that sev­eral key play­ers, such as Bil­liat, Ri­cardo Nasci­mento, An­thony Laf­for and Kekana were still out nurs­ing their re­spec­tive in­juries. How­ever, the as­sis­tant coach believes that the Brazil­ians have enough depth in their squad to grind out the de­sired re­sult against the two-timeCham­pi­ons League win­ners.

“Sure some of our key play­ers, such as Kekana, Nasci­mento andBil­liat, to men­tion but a few, are out nurs­ing in­juries,” Mokoena said. “How­ever, this is team which knows how to grind out re­sults when it is ex­pected of them. We’ve got in­ter­na­tion­als in this squad and they know how to han­dle this type of pres­sure. We’ve been here be­fore and we are led by a coach (Pitso Mosi­mane) who is mo­ti­vated and hun­gry to achieve suc­cess on the con­ti­nent for this club.

“And that’s what drives us as a team. That’s what pushes us (the tech­ni­cal staff) and these play­ers to per­form. They know the re­spon­si­bil­ity which rests on their shoul­ders and they also know that they al­ways have the back­ing of their chair­man to as­pire to ex­cel on the con­ti­nent as well.”

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