Kekana, the emphatic rise of midfield kingpin

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When Hlompho Kekana joined Mamelodi Sundowns from Bloemfontein Celtic nine years ago, no one expected him to the kind of heights he has at the moment. 

There was always belief, even during his SuperSport United days where he won the South African Premier Soccer League (PSL) that there is class in him. 

But the move to Sundowns, especially under the guidance of coach Pitso Mosimane, changed Kekana from a hard tackling midfielder to a leader, voice of reason and a fantastic midfielder.

"My dream has always been to win things, and at Sundowns, I found a great team of players who also have the same mindset. When coach Pitso came, he took us from one level to another. Today, I am proud of the move I made,” Hlompho Kekana

Adding Kekana’s penchant for long range goals, everyone at Sundowns knew they had hit a jackpot when they signed the Zebediela -born player. 

He joined a Sundowns midfield that had then captain Esrom Nyandoro, fans' favourite Surprise Moriri, Bennedict Vilakazi, Teko Modise, Musa Nyatama and Jabulani Shongwe. Moriri and Modise went on to captain Sundowns before they both left along with all the midfielders. 

At 34, Kekana is still going strong at Sundowns, and leading Sundowns to the CAF Champions League victory back in 2016 has seen his hunger for more trophies get even bigger. 

“My dream has always been to win things, and at Sundowns, I found a great team of players who also have the same mindset. When coach Pitso came, he took us from one level to another. Today, I am proud of the move I made,” Kekana said. 

Just last month, Kekana played his 300th match in the PSL, and almost half of those matches came in the yellow colours of Sundowns.

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As the Brazilians now gear up to face Al Ahly away in the quarter-finals first leg of the CAF Champions League, the team will look up to the man who saw the big wins over Zamalek and Al Ahly to lead by example. 

“Matches against Al Ahly, especially away, are very difficult. But we have found a way to motivate ourselves to be strong when we play away. We have proved that we can match any team in the Champions League on the pitch,” Kekana said.

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For coach Mosimane, having Kekana on the pitch is like having a second coach who relays instructions to the players. 

And when the players see Kekana demand a lot from himself, they too get encouraged to give more, something that excites Mosimane. 

“You never see “Keke” sulk or say a lot of things. He just wants to play and win. He gives his all in every match. When the players see him do that, they too push harder to get to his level. We are lucky that he has been competitive for this long without losing his form or quality,” the Sundowns coach said. 

Sundowns and Al Ahly will meet in a CAF Champions League quarterfinal on Saturday evening in Cairo. It will be a repeat of last season's meeting at the same stage which the Brazilians came out tops 5-1 on aggregate.

Fixtures

28.02.2020 Casablanca Raja (Morocco) vs TP Mazembe (DR Congo)

28.02.2020 Cairo Zamalek (Egypt) vs Esperance (Tunisia)

29.02.2020 Cairo Ahly (Egypt) vs Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa)

29.02.2020 Casablanca Wydad (Morocco) vs Etoile (Tunisia)