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Opponents are usually of same standard in last four – Mngqithi

Downs not worried about topping their Champs League group

Sihle Ndebele Journalist
Playmaker Gaston Sirino scored his first league of the season.
Playmaker Gaston Sirino scored his first league of the season.
Image: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images

Unlike his predecessor Pitso Mosimane, Mamelodi Sundowns co-coach Manqoba Mngqithi isn’t too obsessed with the idea of finishing top of their CAF Champions League group to avoid big guns in the quarterfinals.

The well-oiled machine that’s Sundowns hope to continue with their majestic run across all competitions when they host Congolese giants TP Mazembe in the Champions League group tie at Loftus Versfeld Stadium today (6pm).

The Brazilians have impressively gone 24 games without a defeat, having last tasted a loss by going 0-1 down to Bloemfontein Celtic in the MTN8 quarterfinals in October last year. In the Champs League, they’ve won all their three group phase games thus far, sitting top of Group B with nine points.

All Downs’ group opponents in Mazembe, Al-Hilal (Sudan) and CR Belouizdad of Algeria in second, third and fourth slots respectively, are on two points each, but placed by virtue of their goal ratios.

At the rate Downs are going about their business on all fronts, it’s highly possible they'll maintain their Group B top slot until the end and be pitted against other groups' runners-up in the last eight.

Mosimane, who won the last edition of the Champions League with his Egyptian side Al Ahly, always stressed they must finish top of the group to "avoid big boys" in the quarterfinals as group runners-up are set apart from the group winners. Finishing top of the group also means you play the second leg at home.

Even so, Mngqithi feels the most important thing is to qualify for the quarterfinals irrespective of how you do it, highlighting the opponents are usually of the same standard in the last four.

“To be honest, finishing first in your group isn’t always a big advantage. The only important thing is to get to the quarterfinals. This thing of avoiding big boys and all that ... it also has an element of having the best team finishing second,’’ said Mngqithi in a virtual media conference yesterday.

“It [finishing top of the group] has a lot of dynamics. If we top the group and it happens we play against Al Ahly, we wouldn’t have avoided a big boy there. There’s no avoiding anyone, once you get to the last stage of the Champions League you’re mostly likely to face teams that have won the Champions League before.''

Sundowns will count on the form of Gaston Sirino and Peter Shalulile, who both scored in the weekend win over Stellenbosch to stretch their winning streak to nine matches in a row.

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