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Monday, December 4, 2023

Mamelodi Sundowns Dominates with Flawless Campaign to Reclaim Their Crown



The third edition of the CAF Women’s Champions League was held in Côte d’Ivoire over the last two weeks. Eight of the continent’s best teams met after a rigorous qualification process, after which they were divided into two groups of four which would each decide a couple of the semifinalists.

14 days later, Mamelodi Sundowns lifted the trophy for the second time in three seasons of its existence with the most dominant campaign to date. Not only did they win each of their five matches, but they did not even concede a single goal!

Mamelodi Sundowns In A Class Of Their Own

The CAF Women’s Champions League has never seen such a dominant campaign, and perhaps it never will again. Mamelodi Sundowns seemed a level above all of their opponents, as they comfortably coasted to five wins without ever really being threatened at the back.

A set tactical plan and starting XI going into the tournament naturally helped with stability, consistency and such, but at the end of the day, their players simply looked better and more confident in themselves than their opponents.

So, Sundowns cruised through in Group A. A two-goal victory over Tanzanian JKT Queens started things off, after which the sole-goal win over SC Casablanca already sealed a knockout spot for them. Nevertheless, they put three past host representatives Athlético F.C. d’Abidjan in the final group match for good measure.

The game of the tournament was their semifinal against defending champions AS FAR, which obviously was a repeat of the 2022 final. On paper, this seems the match where the South African champions were pushed the hardest as they won thanks to a solitary goal in the 72nd minute, but in reality, they bossed proceedings throughout and could well have scored earlier.

Having successfully avenged last year’s defeat, Sundowns were the clear favorites against first-time finalists SC Casablanca. They showed just why with a resounding 3-0 win to firmly assert their status as the best team in Africa. With that, they became the first team to win the CAF Women’s Champions League on multiple occasions in what seems to be a golden era for the club as a whole, as the men’s division recently registered a similar triumph in the inaugural edition of the African Football League.

Given the dominant nature of the team’s Champions League campaign, it should be no surprise that Sundowns’ players swept up all the individual prizes on offer at the end of it. Andile Dlamini was named the best keeper having registered five clean sheets in five, Botswana international Refilwe Tholakele won the Golden Boot with five goals in as many games and Lesotho forward Boitumelo Rabale was recognized as the best player.

Clearly, Mamelodi Sundowns’ investment in their women’s team is paying off big team, not least through the $400,000 prize money they won as a result of winning the tournament. They are setting the standard for women’s club football in Africa, so while the rest of the continent catches up, they could well establish a dynasty comparable to what Olympique Lyon did in Europe through the 2010s.

Moroccan Sides Impress Again

Sundowns’ closest challengers at the moment seem to be coming from Morocco.

AS FAR’s title last season coupled with the national team’s Women’s Africa Cup Of Nations (WAFCON) success at home solidified the success of their investment in academies and clubs to develop the women’s game in the country, so it should be no surprise that Moroccan clubs finished second and third in this edition of the Champions League.

AS FAR will likely be disappointed to finish third this term. Their title defense got off to a shaky start with a loss to Ampem Darkoa, but they recovered by winning both of their subsequent matches and qualifying for the knockouts. The trouble, however, was that they finished second in their group and were pitted against Mamelodi Sundowns, which is why their campaign ended a match earlier than they would have liked.

Debutantes SC Casablanca certainly should be proud of their efforts as they got all the way to the final. They were clearly the second best team in their group behind Mamelodi Sundowns and ultimately lost to them in the final, but they looked quite strong in all their other matches including the semifinal against Ampem Darkoa where they prevailed on penalties.

It is also worth recognizing the success of the debutantes from Ghana, as they topped their group ahead of AS FAR and were only a penalty shootout away from reaching the final. Their impressive performances reflect the development of teams around the continent, so fans should already be looking forward to the 2024 edition of the Champions League.

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