Manqoba Mngqithi (Gallo Images)

Manqoba Mngqithi (Gallo Images)

  • Mamelodi Sundowns coach Manqoba Mngqithi has applauded CAF for appointing Covid-19 compliance officers from neutral countries in an attempt to root out cheating from host countries.
  • Kaizer Chiefs weren’t able to travel to Morocco to play Wydad Casablanca because of Covid-19 and visa issues.
  • Sundowns got their campaign off to a decent start when they beat Al-Hilal 2-0 in Pretoria.

Considering Kaizer Chiefs’ highly anticipated CAF Champions League tie against Moroccan giants Wydad Casablanca being called off, Mamelodi Sundowns coach Manqoba Mngqithi said CAF must be commended for appointing neutral Covid-19 officers for different games.

Sundowns got their Group B campaign off to a decent start with a 2-0 win over Sudanese side Al-Hilal on Saturday.

Chiefs, who against all odds qualified for the group stages, couldn’t travel to Morocco for a game that should have taken place on Saturday night because of several players not being granted visas.

Morocco and South Africa are also noted diplomatic adversaries because of the former’s occupation of Western Sahara.

“CAF must be commended for appointing compliance officers from different countries. Our concern was testing in a different country and having players testing positive when they’re not. They are trying to address that,” Mngqithi said.

Mngqithi, a long-time Pitso Mosimane associate as Sundowns assistant coach, has seen it all in the Champions League.

“Anything is possible in the Champions League and people like to cheat in this space. Just now, Chiefs couldn’t go to Morocco because of the laws of that country,” he said

“Even before we board the flight for our next game, you may find we could have players who have tested positive. In the Arrows league game, we were missing 12 players. For the Jwaneng Galaxy game, we played Bangaly Soumahoro, Mothobi Mvala and Andile Jali in midfield.

“We were struggling with numbers and people thought we were keeping players away from Botswana. Themba Zwane wasn’t there, so was Gaston Sirino and Rivaldo Coetzee. Only then did people realise something was wrong.”

However, they’ve got two consecutive away games to Algeria’s CR Belouizdad on 23 February and the CAF Champions League ever-presents in TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo on 5 March.

Sundowns were profligate in their win at a wet Loftus Versfeld, they had plenty of chances and didn’t utilise them properly.

This was a concern for Mngqithi, but the fact they collected the three points was of significance for him ahead of the two away games.

“It was our wish to win this one because we need to take the home games because if you win them, you stand a better chance of advancing to the quarter-finals. When you’ve got the three points from the home game, it buys you a bit of time and the confidence to perform well away from home,” Mngqithi said.

“We’ve put ourselves in a better position because if we can give a very good fight away from home and come back with three points, we will have done well. It’s not going to be easy in Algeria.”

With games being played in front of empty stands in South Africa and some parts of the continent, Mngqithi said the lack of crowds had an impact on the players.

“The fact that there’s no crowd levels the playing field a fair bit. It takes away a bit of the advantage. At Sundowns, we have the drum beat which helps us keep the ball and the cohesion of the team. In the absence of the crowd, we don’t get to play our normal game because it’s very close to a training match, it’s just that the stakes are high,” Mngqithi said.

“Even in the Premier League, the vibe and the match temperament doesn’t really tell you that you’re playing an official match. You can lose three points now and find yourself in trouble.”

It wasn’t lost on Mngqithi though that in their travels, they may also be blessed with quiet stadiums, thereby neutralising the 12th man effect crowds often have in North and Central African encounters.

“We’re trying our level best to tell the players that the fact that there’s no crowd is just a leveller. It’s going to be the same when we go there and when we go to TP Mazembe and there’s no supporters. Then you’ll understand and appreciate that when we go there and there’s no crowd.”

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