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Mokwena: Knockout Is Where Champions League Begins

  • April 20, 2024
  • 2 min read
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Mokwena: Knockout Is Where Champions League Begins

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena believes the knockout stages are where the CAF Champions League truly begins, and the time is now for his team to make a strong push for the title.

The African giants face ES Tunisien (ES Esperance) in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Saturday night at Stade Olympique Hammadi Agrebi in Rades (21:00).

Mokwena is encouraged by Sundowns’ achievement of reaching back-to-back semifinals for the first time in their history, solidifying their status as African giants. Their recent triumph in the inaugural African Football League further emphasizes their dominance.

However, the Champions League trophy remains the ultimate prize. Victory over ES Tunisien in the first-leg would guarantee Sundowns’ qualification in the next year’s FIFA Club World Cup in the US as they would not be able caught in the rankings pathway.

“If you look at the last couple of years, we have shown that it’s probably true – but for the first time in the club’s history we have done back-to-back semifinals,” said Mokwena.     

“We clearly understand that the Champions League starts at the knockouts, the responsibility of the group stages is to make sure that you qualify, there goes our objective number one.”  

The match will be played in a hostile environment in front of a 65,000 strong crowd in Tunisia. This isn’t unfamiliar territory for Sundowns, who previously drew blank at the same venue under legendary coach Pitso Mosimane back in 2017 during the group stages.

ES Tunisien confirmed a sell-out for this pivotal encounter.

“We’ve witnessed their fans’ influence in their home games,” Mokwena said. “We saw how they pushed the team to overcome Al Hilal after a prior away defeat, and how their passionate chanting propelled them past ASEC Mimosas in the last round. They’re said to be among the top five supporter groups on the continent. We’ve faced similar atmospheres against Al Ahly in Cairo and Wydad Casablanca in Morocco. I expect a similar level of noise and support here.”

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Robin-Duke Madlala

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