Mokwena insists Downs won tactical battle against Esperance

Thembinkosi Lorch of Mamelodi Sundowns was denied against Esperance. | BackpagePix

Thembinkosi Lorch of Mamelodi Sundowns was denied against Esperance. | BackpagePix

Published Apr 22, 2024



RULANI Mokwena was playing on semantics deep into the Tunisian night on Saturday after Mamelodi Sundowns suffered a 1-0 defeat to Esperance in the first leg of their CAF Champions league semi-final clash.

The Brazilians’ coach took offence at a local journalist’s suggestion that the hosts were tactically the better team on an evening when the opponents from the northern and southern tips of the continent showed just why their defences have not been breached a lot in the competition.

Thembinkosi Lorch of Mamelodi Sundowns was denied against Esperance. | BackpagePix

“You can praise Esperance without degrading the performance of Sundowns, it is possible,” Mokwena said. “You are telling me Esperance were tactically superior, and that is completely false.”

The 1-0 outcome would suggest the journalist was right, the Blood and Gold having managed to beat Ronwen Williams via a 41st-minute goal by Yan Sasse, while they shut out their South African opponents.

Mokwena saw things differently, though: “I don’t agree that tactically Esperance won.

“I think in football there are two important things during the 90 minutes. How many chances are you able to create, and who created the most chances today, between us and Esperance? Who defended better? The one that gave more chances or the one that got less chances.

“Did Mamelodi (Sundowns) get more chances?”

Rhulani Mokwena beleivces Mamelodi Sundowns were not outplayed by Esperance on Saturday night. | BackpagePix

The Sundowns coach believed his team had the most scoring chances and he probably was right, given that Thembinkosi Lorch should have scored from point-blank range with only the goalkeeper to beat in the second half, only to blast the ball over. Mothobi Mvala, on the other hand, had his fantastic strike from outside the box parried over by the 20-year-old Aman Memmiche.

No doubt Mokwena would have also listed the Themba Zwane goal, which was disallowed in the first half after Lorch had received the ball in an offside position before sharing it with his captain, as proof of Sundowns’ chances.

“Maybe I’ve got a different perspective of how I analyse football. When you defend well, you do not concede chances. So, I don’t agree with that statement.”

In the end, it turned out that it was all lost in translation with the journalist meaning to say that Esperance were the most efficient outfit on the day. Mokwena agreed on that.

Aman Memmiche of Esperance kept a clean sheet against Mamelodi Sundowns. | BackpagePix

He remained adamant, though, that Sundowns were the better team on the night, the result that leaves them having to win in the return leg at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night notwithstanding.

“I thought we were braver on the ball, we defended very well, and we suffered when we had to suffer against a very good team. When I (have) watched games of Esperance – against club African, twice against Al Hilal and Asec – I don’t remember a team dominating Esperance at home like we did.

“I would like to ask you, perhaps, how many times do you see Esperance parking the bus? Then if you are happy, then that’s okay.”

The Tunisian media, no doubt must have felt it was a typical case of the loser looking for excuses. But then again, as Mokwena said at the opening of the post-match media conference, the tie is only at half-time.

The Sundowns coach sounded confident that his team would be able to turn the tie around and make use of their home ground advantage to register a win good enough on Friday to see them progress to the final.