Sundowns happy to meet Mazembe in Lubumbashi without feared '12th man'

Mahlatse Mphahlele Sports reporter
Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena in a virtual press conference on February 11, 2021.
Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena in a virtual press conference on February 11, 2021.
Image: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena says that taking on TP Mazembe without their passionate fans in Saturday’s Caf Champions League Group B match at the Stade TP Mazembe in Lubumbashi may work in the Brazilians’ favour.

The Stade TP Mazembe is an imposing venue where their 19,000-capacity crowd always creates an intimidating atmosphere for visiting fans, especially teams from outside the country.

The Brazilians take on The Ravens looking for their third win in as many of their Champions League group stage matches, which would move them closer to securing a place in the knockout stage.

The other two teams in the group, Al-Hilal Omdurman and CR Belouizdad, played to a 1-1 draw on Friday and they have two points each from their three matches. If Sundowns beat Mazembe (also two points) they will move from six to nine points, well clear of the pack at the top of the standings.

“This is an abnormal season globally, where the big clubs have lost their 12th man on the stands because of Covid-19 and many other things that are restricted,” Mokwena said.

“Here in Mazembe, there is always hostility when everyone is here to support their team and it is daunting.

“If you look at the profile of the games that Mazembe have played, they are a team that plays to score and win the game.

“You see a little bit of energy lacking because normally that energy is provided by the support from their fans who give them that extra push. Most of the time they go on to win because of that extra push from the supporters.

“A very good case study at the moment is Liverpool in England. Before Covid-19, Liverpool would have amassed at least two points on average at Anfield but now they only get about 1.2 or 1.3 points a match.

“For the big clubs, they lose out but at the same time it feels as if the playing fields are a little bit level. So, it is not as daunting as it would normally be.”

Mokwena also expressed that their mission is to get all three points and make their mission of progressing to the group stages a smooth process.

“We are top of the group at the moment but that means nothing to us. Our focus is to win the next match against TP Mazembe whether we are top or second on the log,” he said.

“What is important is not where you are after three matches but where you are after six matches.

“The last time we played Mazembe, we beat them in the [2017 Caf] Super Cup but it is a different profile and coach. It is almost a new squad except for a couple of senior and experienced players like Rainford Kalaba who are still here.

“They are a very, very good team, one of the biggest on the Africa continent and with a very clear playing profile. They are very strong with a good defence and players who are able to control their area.

“We have watched the team, they cause a lot of problems with transition because of the speed and deadly counterattack and they can trouble you with set pieces. They also have individual brilliance and they are well coached with good schemes and their pressing is good.”

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