Wydad sink in sea of yellow as Sundowns win inaugural African Football League title

Wydad sink in sea of yellow as Sundowns win inaugural African Football League title
Mamelodi Sundowns players celebrate winning the African Football League final second leg against Wydad Casablanca 2-0, for an aggregate score of 3-2, at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on 12 November 2023. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Backed by passionate home support, Mamelodi Sundowns outsmarted Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca 3-2 on aggregate to win the inaugural African Football League title on Sunday.

Mamelodi Sundowns won the inaugural African Football League (AFL). They defeated Moroccan giants Wydad Casablanca 2-0 in the second leg of the final as they rode a Mexican Wave that was produced by a sea of yellow in Tshwane.

A crowd of Sundowns supporters, just a few seats shy of filling Loftus Versfeld Stadium to its 51,000-capacity, watched as Masandawana made history on a scorching Sunday afternoon in South Africa’s administrative capital.

Sundowns title

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena celebrates with his players. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

Sundowns went into the home leg trailing 2-1 following an electric encounter in Casablanca a week ago to take the tie 3-2 on aggregate. Rulani Mokwena’s men were able to turn the tie on its head thanks to goals from Peter Shalulile and Aubrey Modiba in front of an expectant home crowd.

A plan in motion

Wydad came to the encounter with a strategy — to waste as much time as possible. They did this by falling and rolling over like tumbleweeds as soon as a Sundowns player happened to breathe on their necks.

This tactic frustrated Sundowns immensely and they were unable to play their usual free-flowing game. At every opportune moment, Wydad disrupted the momentum of the game.

The stop-start nature of the match meant that the time added on by the officials would be substantial. So it proved as Wydad’s time-wasting tactics came back to bite them. A mammoth 12 minutes were added at the end of the first half.

sundowns title

Fifa President Gianni Infantino and CAF President Patrice Motsepe with the African Football League 2023 trophy at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria. (Photo: Muzi Ntombela / BackpagePix)

The Brazilians capitalised on this when Shalulile — returning from an injury layoff and in his first match in more than a month — pounced on a loose ball after goalkeeper Youssef El Motie parried Teboho Mokoena’s shot into the path of the Namibian striker.

Eight minutes into the second half, the contest was over when inverted left-back Aubrey Modiba slalomed his way to El Motie’s goalmouth and finished his mazy run with a dainty chip.

The former SuperSport United player was one of several Sundowns who stepped up on the historic day  — others were Khuliso Mudau, Mokoena, skipper Themba Zwanwa, Shalulile, Chilean Marcelo Allende as well as central defenders Mosa Lebusa, Mothobi Mvala and Moroccan Abdelmounaim Boutouil.

As the maiden AFL winners, the Brazilians bagged a staggering $4-million (about R74-million) in prize money.

sundowns final

Aubrey Modiba of Mamelodi Sundowns celebrates his goal in the 2023 African Football League final against Wydad Casablanca at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, on 12 November 2023. (Photo: Gavin Barker / BackpagePix)

sundowns title

Rhulani Mokwena, head coach of Mamelodi Sundowns, directs his side during the African Football League 2023 final against Waydad Casablanca at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria. (Photo: Muzi Ntombela / BackpagePix)

sundowns final

Anas Serrhat of Wydad challenged by Aubrey Modiba and Marcelo Allende of Mamelodi Sundowns at Loftus Versfeld. (Photo: Muzi Ntombela / BackpagePix)

sundowns title

Boutouil Abdelmounaim of Mamelodi Sundowns is challenged by Charki el Bahri of Wydad at Loftus Versfeld on 12 November. 2023. (Photo: Muzi Ntombela / BackpagePix)

This fixture was an opportunity for the South Africans to exact their revenge and show that they are not just domestic bullies that they can mix it up with the best on the continent and conquer when it matters most. They did this comfortably.

History made

Having won the last six DStv Premiership titles in a row, Sundowns have firmly established themselves as one of Africa’s most feared and respected teams. However, continental glory has proven elusive since they won their sole Caf Champions League title in 2016.

With this AFL victory, Sundowns have three continental titles: that famous Champions League win and the CAF Super Cup in 2017.

Wydad broke the Masandawana faithful’s hearts in May. The Moroccans knocked the South Africans out of the 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.   

Following that loss, Mokwena spoke about the importance of luck meeting preparation. Masandawana were bundled out of Champions League contention in spite of not losing a single game in the prestigious tournament last season. Their run included them trouncing the eventual winners Al Ahly 5-2 in a group stage clash.

Mokwena repeated the adage about the importance of luck meeting preparation ahead of his team’s AFL clash with Wydad.

“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. So, I always try to prepare myself for everything I know I have to do. I know I need to deliver a team talk to my players,” Mokwena told journalists.

“So, I prepare for that. I know that I have to deliver a training session. I prepare for that. That is what I try to do. But that does not mean you won’t have to think on your toes [sometimes].”

There is ample disappointment in the Wydad camp following the second loss on the trot in a continental competition final. They failed to add a fourth Champions League crown following their defeat to Al Ahly. DM


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