Sport

LEAGUE GIANTS

Rulani Mokwena wants more despite Sundowns’ unbeaten 50 in Premiership

Rulani Mokwena wants more despite Sundowns’ unbeaten 50 in Premiership
Thembinkosi Lorch of Mamelodi Sundowns during a DStv Premiership match against Golden Arrows at Mpumalanga Stadium in Hammarsdale on 8 May 2024. (Photo: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images)

The only way rivals can catch up to Sundowns is if the Tshwane giants trip and fall on their own success. Something which is unlikely for years to come.

How ironic that on the weekend that Mamelodi Sundowns reached 50 DStv Premiership games unbeaten, the two teams that have been closest to the Tshwane side on the log table this season both lost.

While Masandawana squeezed 1-0 past Royal AM to reach the half-century milestone and maintain their unbeaten run in the league this season, Stellenbosch and Orlando Pirates, who are battling hard for second spot, both went down.

The Buccaneers came into the contest against Richards Bay on a seven-game winning run across all competitions. However, it was the Natal Rich Boys who claimed a 1-0 victory as they bid to avoid the relegation playoffs. The loss dented Pirates’ hopes of finishing second and securing Champions League football for next season.

However, they are still alive in the race as second-placed Stellies were beaten 2-0 by Moroka Swallows, a side that has been teetering at the wrong end of the table for most of this campaign.

Sundowns

Lesiba Nku of Mamelodi Sundowns and Knox Mutizwa of Golden Arrows FC during their DStv Premiership match at Mpumalanga Stadium in Hammarsdale on 8 May 2024. (Photo: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images)

As well hurting both sides’ quest for second spot, which has become as good as first place in the wake of Sundowns’ perennial league dominance, the losses for Stellies and Pirates highlighted just how big the gap is between Masandawana and any potential challengers to their reign as the royalty of South African soccer.

Currently, the gap between second-placed Stellies and Sundowns is 16 points. Pirates, in third, trail the Brazilians by a further point. Both teams have played two more games than Sundowns.

‘I want more’

The gulf in quality is astonishing. Yet Masandawana head coach Rulani Mokwena is still unsatisfied.

“I want more. I tell [the players] I want more. They look at me like I’m crazy. But I want more,” Mokwena said after their 50th match without a single defeat.  

“I want more passes. I want them to press more. I want them to recover [the ball] more. I want them to train better. I want to watch their matches and do corrections. I want them to want more from themselves and each other. On the pitch, off the pitch. I just want more,” the 37-year-old added.  

In addition to last tasting league defeat all the way back in September 2022, Sundowns are now just four games from rewriting history by becoming the first South African team to win the Premiership without suffering a single defeat.

Sundowns Mokwena

Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena at the DStv Premiership match against Golden Arrows at Mpumalanga Stadium in Hammarsdale on 8 May 2024. (Photo: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images)

Mokwena said all this is down to a number of mechanisms pulling in the same direction since he graduated from assistant to head coach following Pitso Mosimane’s departure from Sundowns four years ago.    

“There’s a lot of trust. We trust each other. We’ve spent a lot of time together, so we know each other very well. The players know me well. I know them very well. That helps. The stability is there. The management is extremely supportive,” Mokwena said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Mamelodi Sundowns are feeling the effects of competing on all fronts

When the season started, no one would have predicted that Stellenbosch would be where they are at the moment. As such, the gap between them and Sundowns is understandable.

As for Pirates, they will feel they should be much closer. They have an outstanding coach in José Riveiro, as well some of the best players in the league. All that is missing is consistency and the hunger to win every game.

For now though their focus is firmly on securing their second league runner-up position in a row. They have two games to try to do it.

“We have an opportunity to do an objective analysis of the game and show the players that we are still performing the same way we performed in the previous seven games where we got the result. The only [negative against Richards Bay] is that we did not score. But everything else [was there],” Riveiro said after this weekend’s defeat.

Grant Kekana of Mamelodi Sundowns is challenged by Nhlanhla Zwane of Golden Arrows FC in a DStv Premiership match at Mpumalanga Stadium in Hammarsdale on 8 May 2024. (Photo: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images)

Never losing

Also 50 games unbeaten is German side Bayer Leverkusen. 

The newly crowned Bundesliga champions, who are pursuing a treble this season, reached their 50-match milestone by thrashing Bochum 5-0 on Sunday. Ironically, that was the last team to defeat Xabi Alonso’s men in any competition, in May 2023.   

The latest win extended Leverkusen’s new European record of avoiding defeat. Last week they set a new record by going 49 matches unbeaten, usurping long-time holders of the benchmark Benfica. The Portuguese side went 48 games without losing between 1963 and 1965. DM

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