We don’t want ‘handbags for 90 minutes’: Mokwena on Sundowns-Pirates draw

18 February 2024 - 13:17
By Marc Strydom
Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates players remonstrate with each other and the match officials during the DStv Premiership match at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.
Image: Lee Warren/Gallo Images Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates players remonstrate with each other and the match officials during the DStv Premiership match at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena felt there were three teams who were below par, including his own, on the Loftus Versfeld pitch and decried the niggle and “handbags” of Saturday night’s 1-1 draw against Orlando Pirates.

Both teams rested almost all their players who returned this week from the Africa Cup of Nations as the two sides dished up an understandably scrappy affair in their first match back from the seven-week break for the continental trophy in Ivory Coast.

The 'three teams' Mokwena was referring to were Sundowns, Pirates and the match-officiating combination of referee Thando Ndzandzeka and assistants Kgara Mokoena and Abi Ramutsindela.

Runaway leaders Downs were far from their fluent self, the match statistics showing they had one shot — Marcello Allende’s 76th-minute goal — on target in the seven chances they created while Pirates came close on five occasions with the nine shots they had. Tapelo Xoki equalised for Bucs from the spot in the 80th.

“I don’t like the 90 minutes. I think for a game of football you need three good teams and I think there were three teams that were below par tonight, of course one of them being mine,” Mokwena said.

“And, as the coach, when my team has not played well I am the first [person] who needs to be accountable for that. And I don’t think that was a good game of football in my opinion.

“[There were] far too many off-the-ball incidents, far too many elbows, and I don’t think the referees had control of the game either. [But] I don’t talk about the referees.

“So the less I say the better. But it was not a game of football I liked at all.

“I didn’t get the feeling that there were three good teams on the pitch tonight. And one of them being my team, so [I’m] overly critical about my contribution towards that. And I can’t talk about the opposition and the referees.”

Mokwena said he appreciates Sundowns’ strong rivalry with Pirates, “as long as that [the rivalry] is sorted out on the pitch with football”.

“I don’t have a problem with rivalries. They are good for South African football, you find them all over the world.

“But I don’t think we want to get to the scenario that you had in the El Clasico [Barcelona vs Real Madrid] a few years ago where for 90 minutes you don’t watch football and it’s just handbags [scuffles] the whole 90 minutes.

“I know I don’t want to be a part of [something like] that. But OK, let’s see how it goes and maybe it’s a one-off. But, ja, the less I say the better.”

Mokwena fielded two of his nine Bafana players who did duty at the Nations Cup in his starting XI — Ronwen Williams and Thapelo Morena — plus Namibian Peter Shalulile.

Thembinkosi Lorch, signed from Pirates, and Argentinian Matías Esquivel, made their debuts.

 “We can all do better, starting with the coach. And of course even the news signings can do better,” the coach said.

“It’s difficult, I understand because also with Lorch it’s the pressure and the talks with [it being] his former club.

“Matías still needs to adapt to the league, the intensity, the way we want to play, and also the language doesn’t make it easier.”

Mokwena declined to use the absence of high-profile Bafana stars such as Mothobi Mvala, Grant Kekana, Aubrey Modiba, Thapelo Maseko and Themba Zwane as a reason for points dropped and a flat performance.

“But that’s not an excuse — you can’t rely on that, to say when we rotate we will drop points. There is no time for that at big football clubs ...

“There is validity in the sense of saying there’s rotation, it’s the first game after a long break and all these things — OK, they contribute to that. But we still have to show passion, intensity and desire and a bit of cohesion. And I didn’t feel that tonight.”

Sundowns meet NB La Masia in their Nedbank Cup last 32 clash at Dobsonville Stadium on Tuesday.