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By Katlego Modiba

Football Journalist

Sundowns’ Mokwena downplays favourites tag in Champs League

"I said to you that the competition starts in the knockout stage because these games are very difficult," Mokwena reflected.

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena has downplayed the favourites tag as they set to battle Tunisian giants Esperance in the semi-finals of the Caf Champions League.

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The Brazilians have a psychological edge over some of the big heavyweights on the continent after winning the inaugural African Football League last year.

Sundowns faltered in the same stage of the competition last year. They lost on away goals rule to Wydad Casablanca and Mokwena is aware of the task that lies ahead.

“I hear people saying that Sundowns are favourites but you have to have won the competition a couple of times to be favourites,” he said.

“You don’t get the favourites tag because you play well. You have to earn it and you have to know how to win. You saw Al-Ahly against Simba last week, they only needed one chance. They do it season after season because they know how to navigate their way through this competition.

“That is what we are learning to do and that is to navigate our way through this competition and roll with the punches. Teams in the Champions League especially in the knockout stage, they give as good as they are getting.”

Masandawana last won the competition in 2016 under former coach Pitso Mosimane. Since then, they have been knocked out in the quarter-finals four times, thrice in semi-finals and its only in 2018 where they failed to get out of the group stages.

“I said to you that the competition starts in the knockout stage because these games are very difficult,” Mokwena reflected.

“It’s two seasons in a row that we are in the semi-finals now which is very important. Let’s see now because we have been knocked out a couple of times in the quarter-final.

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“Let’s cherish this moment because even in games where we thought that we were comfortable, we were pulled back a couple of times in the history of this club so we are entitled to absolutely nothing.”

Masandawana will be away to Esperance in the first leg on April 19 before the return match seven days later with the winner set to contest the final of Africa’s premier club competition.