Mamelodi Sundowns is much more concerned about reaching the quarter-finals of the Café Champions League than finishing top of Group A as they face a second meeting with Egyptian giants Al Ahly tomorrow at the FNB Stadium.
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Halfway through the group, Sundowns leads the pack with seven points from three games, having already beaten second-seeded Ahly to Pitso Mosimane in Cairo. If Sundowns could beat Ahly again, they would pretty much secure first place in the group with two games left.
“Leading the group isn’t always the most important thing, it’s important to make sure you qualify for the quarter-finals,” Sundowns co-head coach Manqoba Mngqithi said yesterday.
The Masandawana mentor bases his logic on past experience in the competition and specifically refers to when Downs claimed the trophy in 2016.
“Looking at the Champions League over the years, we’ve always said that if you’re at the top of the group, you can play your first game away from home in the quarter-finals and sometimes that’s not always the best,” added Mngqithi. †
“You are already under pressure from the results of the first game. If you played the first game at home… and you do well, (it can work), which we did in the final,” said Mngqithi.
“We played against Zamalek at home and did well, and when we left for the second leg we didn’t win that game, but the result we had at home already put us in the same position.
“We had the same experience with Wydad Casablanca where we went away from home and got no results there and when we came back to this side we were already playing under pressure. There is always a certain dynamic you have to look at,” he added. , presumably referring to the 2018-19 Champions League semi-final against Wydad, where Sundowns lost the first leg 2-1 from home and could only draw a goalless draw at home.
The Downs mentor admitted that Sundowns and Ahly are the favorites to advance to the quarter-finals, but refused to rule out Al Merreikh or Al Hilal entirely.
“Under normal circumstances, you would think that Ahly and Sundowns are the ones to continue, but that would come at the cost of two very formidable teams in Al-Merreikh and Al-Hilal Omdurman. I also believe they have what it takes to upset this group in some way.”