Sundowns ready for Wydad intimidation in Champions League tie
Mamelodi Sundowns will have their credentials as Africans champions severely tested when they travel to Wydad Casablanca for the second leg of their CAF Champions League quarterfinal on Saturday.
The fixture will be played at the Stade Prince Moulay Abdallah in Rabat, some 85 kilometres up the coast from Wydad's traditional home, which is undergoing renovations. But that does not mean the atmosphere will be any less intimidating for Sundowns, who hold a slender 1-0 lead from the home leg after a lone strike from Ivorian forward Yannick Zakri.
The Brazilians know an away goal would leave their opponents needing to score three times, and coach Pitso Mosimane is expecting the North Africans to use every trick in the book to intimidate his side.
"You must understand the North African mentality. I know it very well," Mosimane told reporters. "You saw what happened [in the first leg]. They came to our bench [to confront us]. It's not that they are bad. It's their culture and mentality.
"We played Zamalek in the final [in 2016] and they came to our bench. But in South Africa, if I went to the opposition's bench, I would be sent to the stands. It's okay, we understand this. It's nothing. It doesn't mean anything.
"These are North Africans, they have a short fuse. But my boys know this now. We went to Setif, Zamalek, Esperance and now we are going to these ones. It's going to be a big fight there. We will give them what they got here."
Mosimane is hoping to have two of his key players back from injury in Khama Billiat and Anthony Laffor as he looks to try and use pace against Wydad. If not, that could see a more offensive role for winger-turned-fullback Thapelo Morena, with the vastly experienced Anele Ngcongca slotting into the defence.
"Hopefully Khama is back, and Antony," Mosimane added on KickOff.com. "If I don't get them then maybe I will bring Thapelo as a winger. I will make a plan for the speed because I know that [Wydad] defence is a little bit slow. So we have to consolidate and put the balls behind.
"I think we can manage the game. We have enough Bafana players on the pitch. We'll probably have different personnel. We'll probably have Anele because he is a better defender than Thapelo. Thapelo is quicker and he gives us more options to go forward, but sometimes when I need results Anele does well for me, like in Esperance and St George. We'll see."
Hero from the first leg, Zakri, has plenty of experience of playing Wydad dating back to his time with former club ASEC Mimosas.
"I played against Wydad three times, so I know almost every player there," he told KickOff.com. "I know how they play. They are a big in team in Africa, so I respect that. It's fire there. You know when Arab people play at home it's not the same as when they are away. It's going to be difficult.
"That goal was very important for us. I know Sundowns can play well away from home. We are going there for a nice result. I trust my team, I trust the coach and I think we will come back with the victory."
Wydad have won 10 of their last 11 home matches in the Champions League, with just a single 1-0 defeat to Egyptian giants Al Ahly in July 2016. Overall, they have won 30 of their 37 home matches on the competition, with two defeats.