Can anyone stop Mandela’s Mamelodi Sundowns?

© Mamelodi Sundowns


© Mamelodi Sundowns

CAFCL Can anyone stop Mandela’s Mamelodi Sundowns?

Joel Omotto • 18:04 - 01.05.2023

The South African champions have looked invincible this season and appear strong favourites to claim a second continental title.

Mamelodi Sundowns appear very much the team to beat in this season’s CAF Champions League following a dominant display on their way to the semi-final where they will take on holders Wydad Casablanca.

Sundowns, where Harambee Stars defender Brian Mandela plies his trade, have looked invincible this season, registering statement wins in the competition, to leave many crowning them as the favourites ahead of the much-fancied Wydad and 10-time champions Al Ahly of Egypt.

Sundowns’ latest demolition job was against Algeria’s CR Belouizdad who they beat 6-2 on aggregate in the quarter-final after a 4-1 victory away before winning 2-1 in Pretoria on Saturday.

That was preceded by a dominant group stage display when they went unbeaten, with the biggest result being a 5-2 thrashing of Al Ahly at home. 

They also beat Sudanese giants Al-Hilal at home before drawing away while Cameroon champions Coton Sport were dispatched 3-1 away and 2-1 at home followed by a 2-2 draw with Al Ahly in Cairo to end up as group winners.

The Brazilians have benefited from winning the league title early, having sealed their sixth straight Premier Soccer League trophy at the start of April, with six matches to spare, putting all their focus on the Champions League.

They also boast a strong squad which was expensively assembled, enabling 36-year-old coach Rhulani Mokwena to shuffle his pack however he wishes while challenging on multiple fronts.

Mokwena has also employed a possession-based approach which has seen them dominate their opponents and looking at their remaining rivals, there is plenty of optimism among Masandwana supporters that they can win a second continental title, having claimed their first in 2016.

Wydad needed post-match penalties to eliminate Simba from Tanzania, having lost 1-0 in Dar es Salaam, before winning by the same margin at home.

Wydad do not look like the team that went unchallenged before edging Al Ahly 2-0 to win the title under now-Morocco national team coach Walid Regragui last season.

They have endured a tough season and are on their fourth coach since Regragui departed, with Spaniard Juan Carlos Garrido replacing Franco-Tunisian Mehdi Nafti in February.

Given the way they were run close by Simba, Sundowns will be licking their lips ahead of the first-leg semi-final meeting in Casablanca on May 13.

The winners of this match will take on either Al Ahly or Tunisian giants Esperance, who won the last two of their four African titles in 2018 and 2019.

That North African derby will witness fireworks given the rivalry between the two teams as well as their fans with Al Ahly keen to reach the final and potentially exert their revenge on Sundowns.

However, the South African champions will be confident of bringing down whoever comes their way, if they can go past Wydad, as they have already shown this season that they can beat the very best from the Maghreb.

CAF Champions League semi-finals pairings:

Esperance (TUN) vs Al Ahly (EGY)

Wydad Casablanca (MAR) vs Mamelodi Sundowns (RSA)

First legs: May 12-13; second legs: May 19-20

Aggregate winners qualify for two-leg final in June