Pirates to plunder Esperance?
Lennox Bacela (Gallo Images)
Tunis - Strong bodies and determined minds will be paramount when Orlando Pirates take on Esperance in a CAF Champions League second leg semi-final match in Tunisia on Saturday night.
The first leg, which took place at the Orlando Stadium two weeks ago, ended in a 0-0 stalemate.
Any score draw on Saturday would see Pirates through to the final on the away goals rule, while another 0-0 result would take the tie into extra time and penalties.
It’s been a long road for the Soweto giants, the path littered with obstacles and challenges, Bucs having often been met with hostility, testing conditions and strange environments during their excursions into Africa.
Their campaign started all the way back in February this year, with a 9-0 aggregate thrashing of the Djabal Club from the Comoros.
That was followed up by difficult fixtures away in Zambia and the DRC as Pirates successfully navigated their way past Zanaco and TP Mazembe respectively to make it into the group stages, where they finished as runners up to Al Ahly in a very tough group.
The 3-1 Telkom Knockout win over Black Aces aside, Pirates have not been in great goal-scoring form of late.
A goal or two will be crucial in Tunis, but what Bucs do have going for them is a sense of unity and otherness, having already gone through so much together on their Champions League quest; Pirates have been developing the physiological toughness needed to succeed at the highest level.
The Buccaneer troops have put their bodies on the line in Africa, with nearly every player in the squad manning up to the task at hand.
Players are able to look around the squad and know that they have team-mates capable of going into war with them, able to produce the goods when it has mattered most.
Based on their remarkable campaign so far, there could well be a feeling, perhaps subconsciously, that this could be Pirates’ year.
That underlying belief, together with a performance full of guts, heart and determination, could perhaps just be enough to see the Soweto outfit playing in their first cup final since winning the competition in 1995.
It will however take a showing of extraordinary magnitude to overcome an Esperance side that has reached three consecutive finals since 2010, winning the competition once, while also enjoying a remarkable home record: the north Africans have lost just three of their 60 Champions League matches in a 12 year period.
Thandani Ntshumayelo, Lucky Lekgwathi, Patrick Phungwayo and Siyabonga Sangweni were not part of the 18-man squad that departed South Africa last night.
Kermit Erasmus, the former SuperSport United attacker was also missing, being cup-tied. Defender Happy Jele is expected to skipper the side in the absence of Lekgwathi and Sangweni.
Goalkeepers: Senzo Meyiwa, Brighton Mhlongo
Defenders: Happy Jele, Bheki Nzunga, Rooi Mahamutsa, Ayanda Gcaba, Thabo Matlaba
Midfielders: Tlou Segolela, Andile Jali, Oupa Manyisa, Sifiso Myeni, Daine Klate, Lehlogonolo Masalesa, Khethowakhe Masuku, Mpho Makola, Joseph Molangoane,
Strikers: Lennox Bacela, Collins Mbesuma
What they are saying
Coach Roger de Sa
"For this match, we really have to be well-prepared psychologically, because the home fans won't make it easy for us. We have had it worse in this tournament and I don't think whatever happens in that match or during our stay in Tunisia will shock the guys. "We talk to the players all the time. In fact, we need to prepare ourselves as if this is already a final. We expect the home side to throw everything at us and push for a win, but they know equally that we can cause problems.”
Midfielder Oupa Manyisa
"We have a number of players in the squad who have national team experience. Some of these players have played in front of even larger crowds so I don’t think this will be much of a problem for us.
"The Soweto Derby is another match that requires you to be mentally strong. The expectations of all 85000 to 90000 supporters in a derby are always high. I believe this type of pressure has prepared us for our match against Esperance."