Mngqithi regrets topping Champs League group

Downs' struggle to crack top four continues

Neville Khoza Journalist
Mamelodi Sundowns coach Manqoba Mngqithi during the Mamelodi Sundowns press conference at Chloorkop on May 20, 2021 in Pretoria, South Africa.
Mamelodi Sundowns coach Manqoba Mngqithi during the Mamelodi Sundowns press conference at Chloorkop on May 20, 2021 in Pretoria, South Africa.
Image: Lefty Shivambu

Mamelodi Sundowns co-coach Manqoba Mngqithi feels topping the group in the CAF Champions League and playing the quarterfinal first leg away is not an advantage, as many suggest.

Mngqithi was speaking after Sundowns were eliminated from the competition after their 3-1 aggregate defeat to Al Ahly.

Sundowns topped Group B and played their first leg away, and lost 2-0 in Cairo before they were held to a 1-1 draw at Lucas Moripe Stadium on Saturday.

The coach said the lesson they learnt from their elimination is not to think playing away first gives anyone an advantage in this competition.

“The lessons are a tough one because one of them we learnt in the quarterfinals of the Champions League is that when you are fighting very hard to top the group, which sounds like an advantage that you will go and play your first leg away from home, it is not always the best,” Mngqithi said.

“Maybe being the second [in the group] is always better because when you are playing your first match at home, the opposition, when they play the second game, is always going to be difficult.

“If you remember, even when we beat Al Ahly [in 2019], the first match was here, and we won 5-0. But when we went away, we struggled to beat them. Because of these back-to-back matches, when you start at home, it looks like you stand a chance of going through.

“If you can check, we topped the group, we are out. Simba topped the group, they are out. Maybe it's sending the message that this fight to top the group so that we can play away first is not always beneficial. Maybe we must try to fight to be at home first, where there are no permutations. You are just fighting to win the match, and the next game away, you are trying to consolidate what you have.”

Mngqithi also outlined the challenge they have faced in reaching the semifinals after falling short again at the quarterfinal stage.

“The truth of the matter is that in the past three seasons we had stiff competition in [the] quarterfinals. If you remember, we've played Al Ahly now three times in a row, and it’s proven to be one team. We've struggled to go beyond. We managed the first time around, and we had Wydad [Casablanca] after that,” he said.

“When Wydad took us out, they went on to win it. Al Ahly, when they took us out, they went all the way to win it. So it tells you that we're competing at a level where now it's about breaking through to the top four.”  

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