Mokwena reveals ‘microscope focus’ on Wydad
MATSHELANE MAMABOLO firstname.lastname@example.org
African News Agency
RHULANI Mokwena was at his showoff best in the pre-match press conference for Mamelodi Sundowns’ CAF Champions League semi-final first-leg tie against Wydad Casablanca. The Brazilians coach – perhaps in a ploy to send a warning to the opposition – rattled off the defending champions’ team, illustrating just how well he knows the team that is hosting them at the Mohamed V Stadium in the Moroccan capital tonight (9pm). The press corps could well have been sitting though a Wydad team talk, such was Mokwena’s description of his opposition’s players and their strengths. He spoke about Wydad’s international players who have participated in the World Cup and the experience they bring to the match; he described how strong they will be defensively and mentioned individual players and their respective strengths. Mokwena even showed that he is aware that new coach Sven Vandenbroeck loves to play the 4-2-3-1 formation that usually changes to a back three and mentioned the players who will be in defence when that happens. “So we have pay attention to detail. We have had to work very, very hard and have a microscope focus that allowed us to help the players in putting a good performance at a very difficult stage, at a very difficult stadium with a very difficult crowd, and against a very, very good side. But they also know we are a very good side too, so it will be (an) interesting match.” It was a masterclass in gamesmanship, a ploy that could see less experienced opponents being rattled and perhaps trying to play differently, only to be punished. It is unlikely Wydad would fall for the trap, though. Mokwena’s ‘we have done a lot of work’ seemed an understatement in clarifying just how well aware he is of an adversary they are looking to depose as the continent’s champions. But even armed with that immense knowledge, the Brazilians coach was not about to be arrogant about his team’s chances – not when they are to meet an opponent that has an impressive Champions League pedigree that Sundowns can only dream about. “Wydad are a very good team. They created history in this competition by being in seven of the last eight semi-finals. They have the experience,” he said before rejecting the suggestion that Sundowns are favourites because they have had the best run of all the semi-finalists in this year’s competition. “I am very sober in understanding that (unbeaten record in reaching the semis) does not allow us to win anything. You look at the history of the Champions League and you know clearly that 35 times this trophy has been won by a north African side. You look at the teams that are remaining in the last four and you see how many trophies Al Ahly have won. How many times have Al Ahly won the Champions League? How many times have Esperance won the Champions League? How many times have Wydad won the Champions League? More times than Mamelodi Sundowns,” he said, again somewhat showing off his knowledge and research. “You look directly at our opponent and you understand that this is their fifth consecutive semi-final appearance. Whereas you know that this is the first time in a very, very long time that we appear in the semi-final.” Any thoughts he was claiming the underdog status were quickly dispelled when he said, “We can’t base anything on history, all that is for folklore. The reality is (that) we have to be in the present. We must play the match and not the occasion. We have to try and win the match. That’s what we are here for.” There could be no disputing that, at least not when you take his thorough knowledge of the opposition into account.