Are you guys happy to see Esperance park the bus?: Sundowns coach Mokwena to Tunisian media

Marc Strydom Digital Sports Editor
Aubrey Modiba of Mamelodi Sundowns is challenged by Roger Aholou of Esperance Tunis in the Caf Champions League semifinal first leg match at Stade Olympique Hammadi Agrebi in Tunis, Tunisia on Saturday night.
Aubrey Modiba of Mamelodi Sundowns is challenged by Roger Aholou of Esperance Tunis in the Caf Champions League semifinal first leg match at Stade Olympique Hammadi Agrebi in Tunis, Tunisia on Saturday night.
Image: Mehrez Toujani/BackpagePix

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena said his team were tactically superior to Esperance Tunis in their 1-0 Caf Champions League first leg defeat in Tunisia on Saturday night.

The coach became embroiled in a back-and-forth with a journalist who asked in the post-match press conference if Esperance won the tactical battle at the packed, 60,000-seat Stade Olympique Hammadi Agrebi in Tunis.

Mokoena gave an update on Downs’ most important midfielder Teboho Mokoena, who sat the game out after the injury picked up in their 2-2 DStv Premiership draw against Moroka Swallows on Monday.

“Teboho Mokoena was almost ready but we didn’t want to take that risk because of the schedule we have. But we’ll see how it goes,” the coach said.

Sundowns, who had chances to equalise and would of course have preferred a draw, will be reasonably content with a single-goal defeat that handed a marginal advantage to Esperance but also leaves the tie wide open.

Downs had some disadvantages to overcome. They were playing their 46th match this season as they compete across a staggering six competitions. Esperance were playing their 29th.

The Brazilians have midweek games as a distraction too — they meet fourth-placed Sekhukhune United in a league clash at Loftus Versfeld on Tuesday before Friday night’s second leg at the same venue. Esperance were playing their third game this month, Sundowns their sixth. 

But at home, a fired-up Downs are certainly capable of lifting heavy legs to beat Esperance by a two-goal margin.

“I thought we were brave on the ball, I thought we defended very well, I thought we suffered together in moments where we had to suffer against a very good team,” Mokwena said.

“When I watched the games of Esperance — against Club Africain, Al Hilal, Asec [Mimosas] — I don’t remember a team dominating them here like we did tonight.”

Asked if Esperance won the tactical battle, Mokwena countered: “I don’t agree that tactically Esperance won, no — I fully disagree.

“In football there are two very important things. The first is how many chances are you able to create, and who created the most chances today? Mamelodi.

“Then who defended better — the one who gave less chances or more chances? They conceded more chances than Sundowns.

“Maybe I’ve got a different perspective of how I analyse football.”

As a back-and-forth emerged between coach and the questioner, Mokwena asked: “I would like to ask you guys as the Tunisian media, how many times do you see Esperance parking the bus at home?

“And are you guys happy to see one of your biggest clubs in the country playing against Sundowns and parking the bus? If you guys are happy, then OK, there’s no problem from me with that.

“You can praise Esperance without degrading the performance of Sundowns — it’s possible.”

Apart from weariness, Sundowns had a huge, hostile crowd to contend with.

“I thought it was electrifying, good, vibrant and I think it helped Esperance because in difficult moments they pushed the team,” Mokwena said.

“It was the first time I saw Yan Sasse, the Brazilian, tracking back and running all the way — normally he doesn’t do that, so credit to the fans for supporting Esperance.”

Statistics on the website Transfermarkt backed up Mokwena's assertion, showing Sundowns with 61% possession and seven shots to six, with four to one off target and one to two on target.

Esperance committed 17 fouls to Downs' nine. The Tunisian club did have more corners, with five to Downs' three.

Sasse’s 41st-minute strike, set up in a superb combination with countryman Rodrigo Rodrigues, separated the teams.

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