As enticing Caf Champions League encounters go, it doesn’t get any larger-than-life that a two-legged Caf Champions League quarterfinal between Al-Ahly and Mamelodi Sundowns.
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As soon as this draw came out of the hat, pitting Pitso Mosimane against his former side, the excitement levels for this season were ramped up a decibel or two.
The sub-plots to this match are almost more intriguing than the encounter itself, which is likely to be an absolute cracker between two continental heavyweights.
Can the understudies – Manqoba Mngqithi and Rulani Mokwena, turn the tables on Pitso? If they do, could it even lead to Pitso losing his job at the Cairo giants? Rumours are already starting to brew in the Egyptian capital, with former players criticising the ex-Bafana and Masandawana mentor after a couple of poor results.
It might seem utterly ridiculous that a man who won the Champions League with Ahly last season could be in the firing line so soon.
But if ever the saying that you are only as good as your last triumph holds true, it is at a team like Al-Ahly, where your job is automatically in danger if you can’t win the Champions League.
With this in mind, if Mosimane’s side are knocked out by Sundowns, it could be curtains for Pitso.
Expect more speculation in Egypt leading up to Saturday’s game – Al Ahly’s Cairo rivals Zamalek are also currently top of the league in Egypt, with the pair drawing 1-1 on Monday evening, keeping a 4-point gap between the two, though Ahly do have two games in hand.
On a more positive note, this Champions League also represents an opportunity for Mosimane to fully own a tournament victory with Al-Ahly, as he was able to do with Sundowns in 2016.
One says this because Mosimane only took over Ahly at the semifinal stage last season, and it is a fair argument that some of the groundwork for Ahly’s success was done by Swiss coach Rene Weiler, who Mosimane replaced at the Red Devils.
If Mosimane can get his team past Sundowns – and Ahly have to be favourites to triumph – and go on to win the title, then his chances of remaining in Cairo are surely stronger than ever.
Ironically, Weiler’s last actions in the Champions League as an Ahly coach were to get them past Mosimane’s Sundowns in last year’s quarterfinal, the Red Devils winning 3-1 on aggregate in March 2020, not long before the Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to most of football for several months.
Now it is Mosimane’s job to get one over his former side, and perhaps, even if he says otherwise, “Jingles” would rather have a different opponent in the last eight, without all these parallel narratives.
On the other hand, if anyone should know how to stop Sundowns, it is Mosimane, as much as Mokwena, Mngqithi and Steve Komphela have stamped their own mark on the team since taking over.
It all points to an enthralling match, that whatever happens should be an endorsement for the standard of coaching in South Africa.