Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane has conceded that his team’s elimination from the CAF Champions League “is a bitter pill to swallow” but it’s the vital lessons that the South African champions took away from their continental sojourn that will make them a better team next time.
“We have understood how to play with the north African [clubs]. We have figured them out but we are yet to conquer them,” he pointed out.
“In my opinion, we are the only team – expect TP Mazembe [of the DR Congo] – in SADC [region] that has figured them out.”
Mosimane is about right: it’s just his side and Mazembe who most recently interrupted the north Africans’ monopoly in the richest club competition on the continent.
Sundowns succeeded Mazembe as the champions in 2016 before Moroccan powerhouse Wydad Athletic took the crown back to the apex of the African map in 2017.
It’s going be yet another all-north African clash in this year’s final after Wydad edged Sundowns on aggregate in the semifinals to set a date with Esperance of Tunisia over two legs on May 24 and 31.
The South Africans failed to progress following a goalless stalemate at Lucas Moripe Stadium on Saturday, owing to the 2-1 defeat in the first leg in Rabat, while Mazembe lost 1-0 on aggregate against Esperance.
Mosimane has cited the huge financial muscle the north African clubs command as the power behind the dominance that has seen just 12 clubs from that part of the continent rack up a combined 30 Champions League titles in the history of the competition.
“They operate at budgets 10 times [more] than us. They get [African-born] players from Europe back into the team. They don’t just get any coach. They get top coaches from South America [and] from the EPL [English Premier League] sometimes,” noted Mosimane.
Although the Tshwane giants are also measured on the same scale of riches by virtue of being owned by mining magnate Patrice Motsepe, Mosimane elaborated more on what makes their Arab-speaking continental rivals tick.
“They pay different salaries. They fly private flights, Wydad travel in their private [plane]. This is a big team, no doubt about it. It’s just another level.”
Mosimane believes the home support that Downs enjoyed during their campaign this season will go a long way in matching what has been the driving force for north African sides.
“The support that we had today [on Saturday], I wish I can have it every time. That’s what you see there – and it’s even louder in Wydad.
“But they’ve been in this thing for a long time. We are young.
“When we were still in apartheid, these guys were playing Champions League. But we are doing well, South Africa.
“I’m disappointed with the result, happy that South Africa supported us; disappointed that we didn’t go through when we had that kind of support, it’s unbelievable. It’s just a bitter pill to swallow at this point in time.”
The 2016 CAF Coach of the Year maintains that the current Sundowns squad is “a team under construction” but they will try again next year.
“We understand where we are. Good few points to reach the semifinals.
“Our way of next year’s Champions League will be a little bit different than this year. Probably we won’t start in the preliminary round like we did this year.
“So there’s always advantages.
“To play Champions League is also beneficial for the experience of players. Also, the financial benefits are not small.”
Sundowns, who are also in with a chance to defend the Absa Premiership title, will get $875 000 (about R12.5 million) for reaching the last four in CAF.
The winner between Wydad and Esperance will pocket the $2.5 million first prize, with the $1.5 million going to the runner-up.