03 April 2024 – 11:55

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Mamelodi Sundowns captain Themba Zwane will be available for selection when they take on Young Africans in their Champions League quarterfinal second leg at Loftus on Friday.

Mamelodi Sundowns captain Themba Zwane will be available for selection when they take on Young Africans in their Champions League quarterfinal second leg at Loftus on Friday.
Image: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena is happy to welcome back inspirational midfielder and captain Themba Zwane for their crucial Champions League quarterfinal clash against Young Africans at Loftus on Friday (8pm). 

“Mshishi” missed the 0-0 first leg at Benjamin Mkapa Stadium in Dar-es-Salaam on Saturday, and Mokwena rested his most crucial creative player in Tuesday’s 1-0 DStv Premiership win over Richards Bay FC at Loftus Versfeld.

The Brazilians edged the relegation battlers even after Mokwena made 11 changes from the draw in Tanzania. Zwane is expected to be back in the starting line-up in the second leg, where Downs need a win or scoring draw to book their place in the semifinal.

The Pretoria club’s burning ambition to add another title to their 2016 Champions League triumph is well known, and there is a lot riding on the huge clash against the team popularly known as Yanga. 

“Themba Zwane is Themba Zwane. I speak a lot of about Mshishi’s influence and importance to this group but we need everybody and that is the message I have been saying to the players,” Mokwena said. 

The win over Richards Bay saw the return to the line-up of Denis Onyango, Mothobi Mvala, Zuko Mdunyelwa, Bathusi Aubaas, Sphelele Mkhulise and Matías Esquivel, who have seen little action recently, and some will be in the reckoning against Yanga.

Mokwena said he was happy with the performance of his “fringe” players. 

“It is the match dynamics because training is completely different to the games. You have to keep the tempo, the intensity and concentration. At training there are intervals and water breaks, but in the game you have to be intense, fully concentrated and I thought we were good. 

“I liked the spirit in the team. I didn’t see dropped heads or shoulders, which is something I have seen over the past few games. I only saw good attitude and body language and they also supported one another.

“We knew it was going to be difficult and we asked them to be good teammates to each other because a lot of them haven’t played much this season. That’s why you get a situation where Terrence [Mashego] is cramping and you want to make a change but you have to [come up with] something else.” 

The changes benefited the players who have been on the sidelines for different reasons. 

“I was happy because I have been working with Neo a lot at training, playing him as an inverted fullback where he comes inside to overload and goes back to defend. He did that well in the game.

“I was also happy with the contribution of Zuko [Mdunyelwa] — Zuko has been playing well. And it is good to see Mothobi Mvala back. His last game was [for Bafana Bafana] at Afcon.

“Aubaas is growing in stature and he is believing a bit more.

“Denis [Onyango] has not got a lot of game time but he was superb, with zero mistakes and good leadership on set-pieces and organisation.

“I am happy for ‘Pitso’ [Mkhulise] because he has also been coming along nicely.

“Even ‘Tash’ [Tashreeq Matthews], Sipho [Mbule] and Esquivel have to find the momentum and they need all our support.

“The dynamics [of so many changes] don’t make it easy because you want momentum and regularity where they can almost play with their eyes closed but know the movements of each other. The game we [Sundowns] play is very dynamic and positions are interrelated to one another.” 

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