Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies prepared for uphill battle in CAF Champions League title defence

Mamelodi Sundowns won the inaugural CAF Women's Champions League without conceding a goal. Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies FC, Africa's inaugural women's CAF Champions League winners, will face a stiffer challenge than normal as they look to defend their title in the second edition of the tournament in Morocco [October 30 to November 13].

Sundowns lead South Africa's HollywoodBets Super League by 19 points at the time of writing, but have drawn one game and lost two this season - which, by Sundowns' astronomical standards, is a substantial amount of dropped points.

Jerry Tshabalala's side lost on 6-5 penalties to Zambia's Green Buffaloes in the final of the 2022 CAF Women's Champions League/COSAFA Qualifiers, after a 0-0 draw. Nevertheless, both finalists progressed to the Champions League and Sundowns striker Rhoda Mulaudzi has played down the significance of that August defeat.

Mulaudzi told ESPN: "I think it happened at the right time, so that we can know that we need to pull up our socks. We can't just relax and think that it's going to be easy.

"Wherever we're going now in Morocco, it's going to be tough. We just need to put our energy and focus [into it] and make sure that we go and compete and defend our title.

"Let's say [hypothetically] that [the loss] didn't happen - maybe we were going to take things lightly, thinking that we're one of the best. Yes, we're one of the best, but with us losing to the team from Zambia on penalties, it opened our eyes as a team [to the fact that] we can't sleep - not now. We need to go there and put in our effort and make sure that we win as a team.

"I believe that we as Mamelodi Sundowns have a winning mentality - we have a winning DNA - we can't afford to lose it. We're going there to represent COSAFA and South Africa as a whole to make sure that we do [well]."

At the Champions League, Sundowns are in Group B with Bayelsa Queens (Nigeria), Wadi Degla (Egypt) and TP Mazembe (DR Congo).

Tshabalala, who steered Sundowns to last year's CAFWCL title admitted that there was limited information available on this season's opponents, particularly the DRC's Mazembe, but insisted he and his players were ready for the challenge.

"I'm excited about the group that we find ourselves [in]. Why am I saying that we're excited? When we played the previous Champions League, we found ourselves playing against a team from North Africa - back then, it was [Morocco's] AS FAR. Now, we've got Wadi Degla, who are similar to AS FAR in terms of how they approach the game," he said in a South African Football Journalists' Association (SAFJA) press conference.

"We find ourselves again with a team from Nigeria, which is Bayelsa Queens. Previously, we had Rivers Angels, so we must expect a more or less similar approach from those two teams.

"The only closed book is TP Mazembe. When you look at TP Mazembe, they are from the same zonal region as [Equatorial Guinea's] Malabo Kings. Because they're from the same region, one could say that the style of play might be similar to them, but teams might be different in terms of how they approach the games. Realistically, I would say the similarities are there, so we don't have to worry too much about them."

In the same press conference, defender Zanele Nhlapho admitted: "We are in a group with teams we don't really know. We are going to have to go the extra mile.

"We don't have as much information about them [as we would like], but we will be ready as a team and are working hard towards that. We're as motivated as we were last year when we didn't know any team and we went all the way."

Even if they are not quite at their best, Sundowns are one of only three teams from last year's edition who managed to qualify for the CAFWCL again, with the others being Wadi Degla and AS FAR.

Their experience could prove vital, and while Tshabalala admitted that he was unable to strengthen his squad to the extent that he would have liked in the last transfer window, Sundowns can lean on the wherewithal of players such as Mulaudzi, who has played for Australia's Canberra United, as well as Cyprus' Apollon Ladies, and most recently Belarus' Dinamo Minsk.

In the wake of Sundowns' first CAFWCL triumph, Banyana Banyana clinched their first African Women's Cup of Nations [AWCON] title in Morocco this July. Now, Sundowns will go to the same country to prove that after a year on top of Africa's women's football pyramid, South Africa is here to stay as the new dominant force.