Mamelodi Sundowns are set to begin their Caf Champions League campaign on Wednesday as they look to reclaim Africa’s most prestigious trophy for the second time in the space of three years.
But before the Brazilians can even think about contending for the lucrative prize, they will need to overcome a relatively unknown entity in Rwanda’s Rayon Sports in the qualifying round. While the clash promises to test Sundowns’ character, the question on everyone’s mind is whether or not the Tshwane giants have learnt their mistakes from the past season?
Although, Sundowns went into the 2017 edition of the tournament as defending Champions they were eventually knocked out at the quarterfinal stages against Wydad Casablanca, who went on to win the tournament. But while Sundowns looked impressive there were several flaws in the game, in particular their lack of goals.
In Sundowns’ run to the last eight, they were only able to score six goals in the group stages, winning only two games as well, and this is surely something that Masandawana’s head coach Pitso Mosimane will hope to improve on.
Mosimane has already brought on board the likes of Jeremy Brockie and Aubrey Ngoma who will be expected to add some much-needed creativity to the side and for Brockie in particular goals. But the New Zealand international is yet to break his duck at his new club which will be worry for the Sundowns technical team.
Brockie’s addition also means that Sundowns have an added dimension to their game. Last season Sundowns were without Khama Billiat for large portions of the tournament due to injury, leaving the goal scoring duties firmly on the shoulders of Percy Tau. While the 23-year-old did an impressive job, at many times he found himself isolated and struggled in the lone role upfront. This is where Brockie’s signing was a potential masterstroke by Mosimane. The 30-year-old not only brings with him African experience as he was the top scorer in the second tier Caf Confederation Cup last season with SuperSport United, but his physicality will come in handy especially against North African clubs and will allow Sundowns to also play a more direct style of football if need be.
But while goals have been a problem for Sundowns in recent years, if Sundowns want to add a second star to their jersey, it is at the back where they will need to stop leaking goals. Many a time in Africa, Sundowns have leaked an odd goal or two as they lacked concentration especially from set pieces, but it seems Mosimane remains confident with what he has at his disposal as full-back Siyabonga Zulu was the only new defender registered.
This could be a concern, but it should also be noted that Bangaly Soumahoro has grown in leaps and bounds this season, which will please his 53-year-old mentor who enjoys utilising the Ivorian in hostile conditions. Also at the back, Motjeka Madisha is no longer the same player he was last season as he is far more experienced and it is that partnership that he has formed with Soumahoro at the back that has been a rock for Sundowns.
Meanwhile, this time around there can certainly be no talk of fatigue as Sundowns have planned effectively and have signed some of the biggest names in South African football.
However, it does come as a blow that Rivaldo Coetzee and exciting playmaker Gaston Sirino has not been registered. The duo will arguably be a revelation and add some more quality to the team when they are eventually registered in the next window, but this could also be seen as a blessing as it allows Sundowns the opportunity to use them in the league and not burden the experienced legs of the Wayne Arendse and Hlompho Kekana in the months to come.