Sundowns play for pride in must-win CAF quarters

Ricardo Nascimento (left) and Jeremy Brockie (Gallo).
Ricardo Nascimento (left) and Jeremy Brockie (Gallo).

Cape Town - Mamelodi Sundowns have relaunched the #FillUpTheStadium campaign, reminiscent of their previous make-or-break CAF Champions League home fixtures, in their bid for a quarter-final berth.

The Brazilians face Horoya Athlétique Club from Conakry, Guinea, in their final group clash at Lucas Moripe Stadium on Tuesday.

The crucial game comes at a time when the South African champions are in the midst of another lucrative knockout competition, the MTN8, which has eluded coach Pitso Mosimane in the six years he has been in charge of the Tshwane powerhouse.

Sundowns need a win in the premier continental club competition to advance to the knockout stage.

"We have been managing the legs for the Horoya game because national pride takes priority as we are carrying the South African flag," Mosimane told City Press this week.

"If you think you can go for the big fish, why don't you try for it? But you must also respect people and the sponsors.

"We must also make sure that the league is respected as MTN brings a lot of money into the programme."

In confronting the tricky situation, Mosimane said he was looking at three key aspects of management - the players, the game and the programme.

"These three are deeper because we try local cups, then we want the (Champions League) and then the team struggles," said the 54-year-old.

"It's not that the coach or the players are not good enough, but it's down to those three aspects. Otherwise, before you know it, boom, you're out of everything."

Sundowns are placed third in Group C and victory will tie them on eight points with Horoya.

In the event of equal points, a CAF tiebreaker will apply and the Brazilians will advance to the quarter-finals - they held the Guinea side to a 2-2 draw in Conakry in May.

However, it's not as easy as it sounds, Mosimane cautioned.

"You've got to understand that, emotionally, the culture and the history of the cup in South Africa with our fans is something else. You don't take it for granted," he said.

"Even with the club owners, because you can lose your job if you keep on losing cups while trying to keep your focus on the Champions League, which is a very difficult tournament to win because you might not win it.

"And people will turn around and say: 'But at least you could have won the top eight.'"

Mosimane will have Ricardo Nascimento back in contention after the defender sat out of Saturday's MTN8 semi-final because of the red card he received in the goalless Absa Premiership match against Highlands Park in the middle of the week.

After all, Mosimane will need all his top guns against a Horoya side he described as "a good team in the making".

"They've got a very good attack, with strong defence. They play from the back and they have (Ocansey) Mandela, who is a terrific player. We’re going to have problems, but even if (we win) 1-0, it is okay because it’s about qualifying (for the quarter-finals)."

Meanwhile, Sundowns communications manager Thulani Thuswa has called for support on Tuesday.

"It's a trick game because it’s midweek. Unfortunately, that's what CAF gave us, but it doesn’t mean we must sit back and complain. It's going to be free entry for those who are dressed in Sundowns regalia," he said.

The game kicks off at 18:00.

"All we are asking is (for fans to) fill up the stadium as we have seen before with against-all-odds situations. Our fans can also be our driving force."

Wydad Casablanca (Morocco), TP Mazembe (Democratic Republic of Congo), Espérance and Étoile du Sahel (Tunisia), and Al Ahly (Egypt) have all booked their quarter-final places going into Tuesday's last group stage matches, which will effectively decide the runners up.

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