|Giant leap for Sundowns: Pitso Mosimane is back in Africa|
“Everyone says it’s difficult for South African teams in African competitions, but the referees were cheating – you saw that. How can we play?
“In CAF competitions, for South Africans, it’s very difficult, you saw them cheating.
“I thought what happened to us in South Africa against AS Vita was bad, but this was unbelievable! We had people from Medeama coming to our bench and fighting us, and we had to fight back. It’s unbelievable.
“The new Fifa president has a lot of work to do in CAF. Africa is behind. It’s a jungle.”
Those were the words of Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane after his side slipped out of the CAF Confederations Cup - without live television coverage - against SC Medeama in Ghana on May 18.
Then came last week’s bombshell: AS Vita, the club who knocked Masandawana out of the Champions League a month before, had been expelled from the tournament after fielding an ineligible player.
In the space of an hour, Sundowns - having just set a record of 71 points in a 30-game PSL season - had broken another record. They became the only team in the history of African football to reach the group stages of the African Champions League after getting knocked out of BOTH continental competitions.
Mosimane’s surprise was palpable. Drawn in a tough group with Nigeria’s Enyimba, Orlando Pirates’ nemesis ES Setif from Algeria and our old friends Zamalek from Egypt, Sundowns face massive changes to their planned off-season with six gruelling clashes between June 17 and August 23.
Pitso said: “As you can imagine, we already have players who have booked their trips home and holidays.
“Of course it's exciting to be back in the Champions League. That’s the big one, and we want to be in that space. It wasn't the way we intended, but we'll take it.
“In South Africa we have the quality to play in continental competitions against other top sides. We have to take what we learnt from our matches.
"We know it's win at all costs in Africa, but Sundowns will maintain their integrity and we hope represent the country well.”
Compare those quotes with his rant at the start of the story. Pitso is going back to the jungle… with or without television coverage or much visible enthusiasm from their fans.
Bizarrely, despite their earlier failed efforts, Sundowns have enough depth to confound and qualify for the semi-finals of the African Champions League, to restore some of South Africa’s battered pride.
Keagan Dolly’s Rio Olympic preparations may have to take a back seat, but Sundowns can become Kings of the Jungle.