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Sundowns and Wydad each grasping at history in inaugural AFL final 

Sundowns and Wydad each grasping at history in inaugural AFL final 
Hicham Boussefiane of Wydad Casablanca challenges Abdelmounaim Boutouil of Mamelodi Sundowns in the first leg of the 2023 African Football League at the Mohammed V Stadium in Casablanca, Morocco, on 5 November 2023 (Photo: Aknajja/ BackpagePix)

As expected, the first leg of the African Football League final was a riveting affair. Sunday’s second leg promises to be even more intriguing. 

Mamelodi Sundowns head coach Rulani Mokwena and his charges face a mammoth task of attempting to overturn the 2-1 deficit they incurred at the hands of Moroccan heavyweights Wydad Casablanca in the first leg of the inaugural African Football League (AFL) final.

On Sunday, 5 November, Masandawana survived the volcanic conditions of the Mohammed V Stadium – which was filled with supporters clad in the red of Wydad baying for blood.

Nevertheless, during that intense and exciting battle, Sundowns rode the wave of hostility to bag a crucial away goal. With the tight contest impressing Fifa president Gianni Infantino.

“The new African Football League has been a great spectacle so far and the first leg of the final was no different,” the Fifa boss said after the first leg.

Even though Sundowns have the advantage of being at home this Sunday in the second leg, it promises to be another hard-fought encounter, with many twists and turns along the way.

Of course – still fresh on the minds of the serial South African champions will be events of May this year – when Wydad knocked them out of the Caf Champions League semifinals on the away goals rule. The match ended 2-2 on aggregate, with the first leg having been a nil-all stalemate.

Mokwena is more than aware that this encounter against the African giants will be extremely difficult – as is always the case when the two sides clash.

“We will do everything we can to be champions at the end of the day. It is not over. We still have the second leg and will throw everything at Wydad,” Mokwena said after his team was downed on Sunday in Casablanca.

“It is not over and we will do everything to be champions.”

If Sundowns manage to turn the match on its head in front of their home support, it will bring them their third African competition gold medal.

Currently, they can boast their 2016 Champions League success, which they complemented by winning the 2017 Caf Super Cup, beating TP Mazembe 1-0 in the final.

They can make history by becoming the first winners of the AFL – a tournament which is said will completely revolutionise African soccer in the long run. The winners also bag a staggering $4-million (about R74-million) for their efforts.

Mokwena mania

Mamelodi Sundowns head coach Rulani Mokwena will be looking to prove his doubters wrong when his team face Wydad Casablanca on 12 November in the second leg of the AFL final. (Photo: Aknajja / BackpagePix)

Whether Sundowns win or not, head coach Mokwena will once again be under scrutiny.

Coaching the best team in South Africa, and one of the best in Africa, is not an easy task. If Mokwena wins matches, his detractors say it is expected with the type of money Masandawna’s hierarchy invests in players every single season.

Certainly, Sundowns possess some of the best players on the continent in their respective positions. Hence, they have won six DStv Premiership titles on the trot.

The perception from opposition fans is that Mokwena is a fraud and has been riding on the coattails of a talented group of players since he became head coach just over a year ago.

When he loses, the naysayers feel vindicated in their opinions, which include that Mokwena, at 36 years old, is too young and inexperienced to achieve all he has at Sundowns through his own brilliance.

“Pitso Mosimane laid the foundation,” they say. Which he did, of course. But Mokwena has not dropped the baton. Instead, he has added his own personality to the existing and solid foundation.

Sometimes Sundowns’ success under Mokwena is attributed to the Motsepe family’s financial muscle and the plethora of players at the young coach’s disposal as a result of the wealthy owners of the club. 

Again, he has to know how to use these players effectively. Which he and his technical team do to great effect at most times.

To the satisfaction of his detractors, Mokwena’s team has already failed in two domestic Cup competitions this season. 

First they were beaten 3-1 on penalties by Orlando Pirates in the MTN8 final at the beginning of October.

Then in mid-October, Masandawana were stunned 5-4 on penalties by TS Galaxy and knocked out of the Carling Knockout Cup – in spite of fighting back from 2-0 down to level the score.

Those two results stung the team. They head into every season looking to sweep up all trophies on offer. Nevertheless, there is an opportunity for Masandawana to make amends for that double disappointment through success in the AFL. 

The match kicks off at 3pm on Sunday, 12 November, at Loftus Versfeld in Tshwane. It was initially scheduled for 11 November, but a clash with the Soweto derby forced the change in date. DM  

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