Mokwena ‘very proud’ as Sundowns on a high topping Caf log and winning PSL

Abubeker Nasir of Mamelodi Sundowns celebrates his goal with teammates in the Caf Champions League Group B match against Coton Sport at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on April 1 2023.
Abubeker Nasir of Mamelodi Sundowns celebrates his goal with teammates in the Caf Champions League Group B match against Coton Sport at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on April 1 2023.
Image: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena congratulated his club on ending top of their Caf Champions League Group B and praised his players for a tricky 2-1 win on Saturday night in their dead rubber against Coton Sport that honoured the fans who turned out late. 

News of second-placed SuperSport United being held to a 1-1 draw by Chippa United in Gqeberha, meaning Downs were crowned DStv Premiership champions without kicking another ball in the league, filtered through Pretoria at about 7.30pm. 

This appeared to prompt more of the Downs’ fans to make their way to Loftus Versfeld for a match against Coton Sport where the Brazilians, through to the quarterfinals, were only playing for top place in the group. 

Downs' decent turnout of supporters were in full voice long after the final whistle as the Brazilians ended the 90 minutes on a high from their dual Champions League and Premiership successes. 

Rulani Mokwena's post-match press conference after Mamelodi Sundowns' 2-1 win against Coton Sport.

Mokwena said the twin distractions of winning the league and having qualified for the Caf quarters made it a tricky game against Cameroonian outfit Coton Sport, who fought for the result despite being guaranteed last place and playing to avoid the ignominy of not notching a point. 

“It was a bit difficult because we live in such a digital and social media space and whether you like it or not the players will know,” Mokwena said. 

“So my speech to them before the game was, ‘Congratulations, because you guys know about it, but now you’ve got [a game]’. 

“And really it’s something they need to be congratulated for. And sometimes in South Africa it’s downplayed, and maybe we are victims of our own success where people undermine the difficulties of winning the Premier League. 

Mamelodi Sundowns vs Coton Sport highlights,

“The league title is the hardest to win in any country. You’ve got to play against 15 opponents home and away and the competition lasts eight or nine months. There’s no other competition any team competes in that lasts as long. 

“Sometimes maybe because of the way it may be perceived, and people start to think it looks easy, that’s actually the most difficult. 

“And tonight’s was maybe a game like that where we had to not be in a celebratory mood because we’d won the championship, which was a very difficult championship. 

“And maybe people might not think that but it’s so difficult to have the level of consistency that this group has shown over the number of games we’ve played — having to win and win and win and win without getting tired is not easy. 

“There’s a level of complacency that creeps in. To not allow that and stay at a good competitive mental level is very difficult. I think not enough credit is given to this group for that. 

“The second difficulty for this game was it was labelled a dead rubber. That is difficult because you’ve got fans who come for a 9pm kickoff — and you must understand the safety concerns, whether on the road or elsewhere, at that time. 

“And for us to play it as a dead rubber [would not be right]. That’s why I’m very proud of the performance because it shows a lot of respect for the sacrifices — financial, health and safety-wise — the Yellow Nation showed to pitch like that.” 

Mokwena said the game against Coton Sport was tough “against a team that, even though they didn’t have much to play for put up a brave fight”. 

“Congratulations to the football club, Mamelodi Sundowns, and to the players, technical staff and everybody associated with the club on qualifying for the quarterfinals. 

“It was a good performance — in most moments I was happy with what we did on the pitch. There were one or two things I was unhappy about — unfortunately we didn’t keep a clean sheet. 

“But there were a lot of good things I liked, including the individual performances because some of the players hadn’t played in a long time. 

“I’m pleased with the result and the number of points from a very difficult group.” 

The Champions League quarterfinal draw will be held on Tuesday. 

Sundowns meet Cape Town City at Loftus on Tuesday in the first of their seven remaining league games where the Brazilians still have the Premiership records of 71 points in the 16-team era, and even 74 in the 18-team era, to play for. 

The most points Downs (59 points) can end on is 80. 

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