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Sundowns Women juggle confidence and caution ahead of Champions League defence

Sundowns Women juggle confidence and caution ahead of Champions League defence
Mamelodi Sundowns celebrate after beating Malabo Kings FC on penalties to reach the final of the 2021 TotalEnergies CAF Women’s Champions League semifinal match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Malabo Kings at Al Salam Stadium, Egypt, Cairo, on 15 November 2021. (Photo: Weam Mostafa / BackpagePix)

The second edition of the Caf Women’s Champions League kicks off this Sunday in Morocco. Defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns are well aware of the target on their back, but remain ready to fend off all challengers.

Having just wrapped up their second Hollywoodbets Super League title on the trot, Tshwane-based football side Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies are now fully focused on defending their Caf Women’s Champions League crown.

The South African champions made history in 2021 when the competition was launched in Egypt, becoming the first club to lift the crown.

In the inaugural season of the African women’s club football showpiece, Banyana Ba Style registered a 2-0 final victory over Ghana’s Hasaacas Ladies to win the title. The South Africans achieved this feat without conceding a single goal.

In this second edition, the competition they will face promises to be more challenging. They have already been handed a taste of some of the difficulties that await.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing as the team competed in the regional qualifier. They were defeated by Zambia’s Green Buffaloes in the final of the Southern Africa mini tournament.

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Mamelodi Sundowns chairman Tlhopie Motsepe celebrates with players during the 2021 TotalEnergies CAF Women’s Champions League semifinal match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Malabo Kings at Al Salam Stadium, Egypt, Cairo, on 15 November 2021. (Photo: Samuel Shivambu / BackpagePix)

In Morocco, where the second edition of the Champions League is taking place, they can expect more of the same — with teams on the continent constantly improving.

Psychological boost

Sundowns will be relieved to head into the tournament knowing that the domestic league title has already been secured, with three games to spare. This means the team can focus all its energy on trying to defend its continental crown.

“Psychologically, [wrapping up the league early] helps us because we can focus on the big one. Which is the Champions League. We don’t have to worry about trying to play catch-up games [when we return from Morocco]. Last year, it was the same thing. It gave us the chance to focus on winning the Champions League,” said Sundowns coach Jerry Tshabalala.

His sentiments on the convenience and mental advantage of going into the Champions League as national champions were echoed by club captain Zanele Nhlapho.

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Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies, winners of the 2021 Total Energies CAF Women’s Champions League Cosafa Qualifier final match between Black Rhinos Queens and Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies at Goodwill Zwelithini Stadium, Durban, on 4 September 2021. (Photo: Samuel Shivambu / BackpagePix)

“We are very excited that we have wrapped up the league as we prepare to compete in the Champions League. Although our league statistics are very good, it was quite difficult to achieve them this time around,” said Nhlapho.

“Several teams faced us with low defensive blocks in a bid to negate our attacking prowess. Thus, teams were more difficult to beat. It shows that the league is improving as teams are investing in quality players and experienced coaches.”

The competition will take place from 30 October, with the final scheduled for 13 November. It will be played across the cities of Rabat and Marrakech, with eight teams from the different Confederation of African Football zones taking part.

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The teams are divided into two groups. Group A includes the host club ASFAR (Morocco), Simba Queens (Tanzania), Green Buffaloes (Zambia) and Determine Girls (Liberia).

Meanwhile, Masandawana have been drawn into Group B, alongside Nigeria’s Bayelsa Queens, Egypt’s Wadi Degla and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s TP Mazembe.

“The tough opposition we have faced in the Super League has given us a preview of what to expect in Morocco. Several teams will be looking to become the first to score against us and even dethrone us,” Nhlapho said in anticipation of the hurdles they may face in Morocco.

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Club captain Zanele Nhlapho on 4 September 2021 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images)

“We are well aware that we will be facing some of the best women’s teams across the continent. Several new teams will be participating; therefore, we will have to be spot on with our tactics throughout the competition. We are not taking any team for granted and we need to be vigilant at all times in Morocco.”

With the next instalment of the Fifa Women’s World Cup less than a year away, many players taking part in the tournament will be keen to impress and possibly earn international moves that will better their chances of making their respective World Cup squads.

According to Sundowns’ coach Tshabalala, this hunger can massively bolster the quality of football that will be on display throughout the tournament.  

“It’s going to raise the level of the competition. Players will not go out there to play cautiously. They want to be selected for the World Cup. All those players participating will want to raise their hands,” said the experienced coach.

The South Africans kick off their campaign against Bayelsa on 31 October, followed by a clash against Wadi on 3 November. They conclude their group campaign against Mazembe three days later. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Malcolm McManus says:

    I’m pretty certain this team could beat Bafana Bafana. It would be interesting to watch. Most likely will draw far more spectators to a stadium than bother with normal Bafana Bafana games.

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