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Mngqithi: Sundowns have more to worry about than Ahly in group stage

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Manqoba Mngqithi.
Mamelodi Sundowns coach Manqoba Mngqithi.
Image: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images

Manqoba Mngqithi has admitted Mamelodi Sundowns have been handed a tough draw in Group A of the 2021-22 Caf Champions League, not least against Pitso Mosimane's back-to-back champions Al Ahly.

Mngqithi, though, said that is the nature of the competition, and that the other three groups will present as tough a challenge to their competitors.

Sundowns' co-coach said it was the long travel — involving awkward connecting flights — and conditions in Sudan against tough competitors Al Hilal and Al Merrikh that will make Group A especially challenging for his team. Hilal and Merrikh were both 2015 semi-finalists in Africa's premier club competition.

Record 10-time winners Ahly, now coached by ex-Brazilians boss Mosimane, eliminated Sundowns in the quarterfinals of the 2019-20 and 2020-21 Champions League, both times 3-1 on aggregate.

“The teams we are playing are all well coached. Al Ahly are the biggest team in Africa. Al Hilal are one of the most formidable teams in the Champions League — they are always in the group stage, always pushing for the quarterfinals,” Mngqithi said.

“We haven't played Al Merrikh but it's the same story as Sundowns, Chiefs and Pirates in SA when you compare them and Hilal in Sudan.

“We'll have to work very hard. Al-Hilal gave us trouble last year — we beat them at home and drew away.

“Al Ahly have always taken us out of the quarterfinals, and that on its own is suggestive of the challenges we are going to face.

“Once you get into the last-16 it's always difficult in terms of who you'd want to play against. Probably 75 if not more than 90% of the teams who are there have won the Champions League, so there is no chance of avoiding anyone.

“We just have to understand that at this stage of the competition everyone there is looking to win it, so just gear yourself up and make sure your team is strong enough to compete.

“The biggest challenge with the group might be that it involves extensive travel to Sudan. It's a group we will fight very hard to progress through. We are confident the squad we have is capable of helping us through.”

Sundowns beat Hilal 2-0 at Loftus Versfeld in the 2020-21 Champions League's Group B, and drew 0-0 in Omdurman, where the oppressive heat in the south Saharan country is a factor for visiting teams.

Downs were the 2016 Champions League winners and have been perennial group and knockout stage competitors since without reaching another final.