Johannesburg - Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane says his players can match Spanish giants Barcelona - if they play their usual game.
The match, which will be played at FNB Stadium at 18:00 on Wednesday, has been dubbed Champions v Champions after the two teams won their respective domestic leagues. It has also been referred to as a Percy Tau v Lionel Messi affair.
Mosimane has urged his players not to be overwhelmed by the occasion or freeze when facing some of their idols.
He believes that if they play well and don’t try to play to the gallery, they will give a good account of themselves.
“It is all about asserting themselves and not being intimidated by the big-name players. I don’t care about the score. As long as they play their normal game, I will be happy,” he said.
“They have played at the FIFA Club World Cup and they should be able to rise to the occasion. They should also put their CAF experience to good use.”
He would ask his players not to be overzealous and go hard on their opponents in a bid to impress.
“It’s the World Cup next month and we don’t want to be blamed for injuring players. We want to see all the best players in the World Cup, so I’m going to tell my players to take it easy on hard tackles.
“This is a friendly and it must be played in that spirit.”
Mosimane said the game would give his players the opportunity to shine on a bigger stage, and they should seize the moment.
The match almost didn’t happen. While Sundowns did everything on their side - getting permission from the Premier Soccer League and CAF - Barca failed to inform UEFA in time.
But all was sorted out thanks to the Madiba Magic factor after the organisers agreed to play the game at 18:00 so that it would not to clash with the UEFA Europa League cup final between Marseille and Atletico Madrid, which will kick off at 20:45 (SA time) on Wednesday.
South African Football Association (SAFA) president Danny Jordaan was part of the negotiations and applauded Sundowns president Patrice Motsepe for his persistence in ensuring the deal was struck. Jordaan said the game would not have been endorsed were it not for Mandela’s centenary.
“There are other plans in the pipeline. We are likely to have the Spanish legends playing against SAFA legends and we will have the Nelson Mandela Challenge later in the year,” he said.
The FNB Stadium held special memories for the former president, Jordaan said.
“This is where he made his final public appearance in the final of the 2010 World Cup in front of some of the Barcelona players who were in the Spanish team. This is where he held his first rally after he was released from prison. We staged many Nelson Mandela Challenge matches there in his honour.”