Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies set for tough battle in CAF Champions League title defense
Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies FC, the first African winners of the CAF Women’s Champions League, will face a tougher than normal challenge as they seek to defend their title at the tournament’s second edition in Morocco [October 30 to November 13].
Sundowns lead the South African HollywoodBets Super League by 19 points at the time of writing, but have drawn and lost two this season – which by Sundowns astronomical standards is a substantial amount of dropped points.
Jerry Tshabalala’s side lost on penalties 6-5 against the Green Buffaloes of Zambia in the final of the 2022 CAF Women’s Champions League/COSAFA qualifiers, after a 0-0 draw. Nonetheless, both runners-up qualified for the Champions League and Sundowns striker Rhoda Mulaudzi played down the significance of that August defeat.
Mulaudzi told ESPN: “I think it happened at the right time, so we know we have to pull our socks up. We can’t just relax and think it’s going to be easy.
“Wherever we go now in Morocco, it’s going to be difficult. We just have to put our energy and focus [into it] and make sure we’re going to compete and defend our title.
“Let’s say [hypothetically] this [the loss] didn’t happen – maybe we were going to take it lightly, thinking we were among the best. Yes, we are among the best, but with our loss to the Zambia team on penalties, it was an eye opener for us as a team. [to the fact that] we can’t sleep – not now. We have to go out there and put in our effort and make sure we win as a team.
“I believe as Mamelodi Sundowns we have a winning mentality – we have a winning DNA – we cannot afford to lose it. We are going there to represent COSAFA and South Africa in their together to make sure we do. [well].”
In the Champions League, the Sundowns are in Group B with Bayelsa Queens (Nigeria), Wadi Degla (Egypt) and TP Mazembe (DR Congo).
Tshabalala, who guided Sundowns to the CAFWCL title last year, admitted there was little information available on this season’s opponents, particularly DRC’s Mazembe, but insisted that he and his players were up for the challenge.
“I’m excited about the group we’re reuniting with [in]. Why do I say we’re excited? When we played in the previous Champions League, we found ourselves playing against a team from North Africa – at the time it was [Morocco’s] AS FAR. Now we have Wadi Degla, who are similar to AS FAR in terms of approach to the game,” he told a South African Football Journalists Association (SAFJA) press conference.
“We end up with a team from Nigeria, which is Bayelsa Queens. Previously we had Rivers Angels, so we have to expect a more or less similar approach from these two teams.
“The only closed book is TP Mazembe. When you look at TP Mazembe, they are from the same zonal region as [Equatorial Guinea’s] Malabo Kings. Because they are from the same region, it could be said that the style of play may be similar to them, but the teams may be different in their approach to games. Realistically, I would say the similarities are there, so we don’t have to worry too much about that.”
In the same press conference, defender Zanele Nhlapho admitted: “We’re in a group with teams we don’t really know. We’re going to have to go the extra mile.
“We don’t have as much information about them [as we would like], but we will be ready as a team and we are working hard on it. We are as motivated as we were last year when we didn’t know any team and we went all the way.”
Although not quite at their best, Sundowns are one of only three teams from last year’s edition to have managed to qualify for the CAFWCL again, the others being Wadi Degla and AS FAR.
Their experience could prove vital, and while Tshabalala admitted he was unable to strengthen his squad to the extent he would have liked in the last transfer window, Sundowns can rely on the means of players such as Mulaudzi, who played for Australian Canberra. United, as well as Apollon Ladies from Cyprus and, more recently, Dinamo Minsk from Belarus.
In the wake of Sundowns’ first CAFWCL triumph, the Banyana Banyana won their first Women’s Africa Cup of Nations [AWCON] title in Morocco in July. Now Sundowns will go to the same country to prove that after a year at the top of the African women’s football pyramid, South Africa is here to stay as the new dominant force.