Mamelodi Sundowns may have already qualified for the CAF Champions League quarterfinals, but their game against CR Belouizdad at Loftus Versfeld Stadium today (3pm) remains important.
This is the warning from co-coach Rulani Mokwena, who wants to carry winning momentum into the knockout stage. It should be a concern for the Algerians, who are still trying to qualify for the quarterfinals and need to beat the Brazilians, who lead Group B with 13 points.
Belouizdad are second in the group with six points, while Al Hilal Omdurman, who play TP Mazembe, are on four points. For the Algerians to qualify for the quarterfinals they will need to beat Sundowns or hope Mazembe hold Al Hilal.
Despite the match being a dead rubber for Sundowns, Mokwena insists they will treat it like any other game.
“Not at a club like Mamelodi Sundowns, we don’t operate in that space [treating the match as a dead rubber]. We are extremely serious people and we try to set the tone as a technical team,” Mokwena told the media yesterday. “From a psychological perspective we also want to make sure we get into the knockouts on a good winning momentum, and that’s very important.
“You want to be in the Champions League knockout stage on the back of victories so that you have a belief that you can win in Africa, and that’s important because once you get into the knockout stage, there are no second chances.”
Mokwena said they would put out a strong team while continuing to give fringe players the opportunity to play.
“We will see how it goes at training. Starting places are based on merit,” he said. “We believe in that and we will try our level best to give opportunities to everybody that is doing well. In the previous match, Ricardo Goss was exceptional and even made it to the CAF team of the week. Apart from that, we got so many players that are waiting for an opportunity.”
Al Ahly coach Pitso Mosimane said recently that most teams would fear playing against his side in the quarterfinals.
“If I think coach Pitso is honest, I don’t think he wants to play us,” Mokwena said. “This is the competition. Once you get to the last eight and last four, you get to play anybody and play the best teams on that stage.”