On nearly unplayable pitch, Pirates manage to score crucial away goal
appy Jele picked on the trend of Orlando Pirates defenders becoming the source of goals when the going got tougher for the club’s strikers in continental competition.
He pounced on a half-cleared ball by the hosts’ defence as he snatched the solitary goal in the 58th minute that gave Pirates maximum points in their opening campaign of the CAF Confederation Cup group phase yesterday.
Jele, who is normally deployed at right fullback, partnered Siyabonga Sangweni in the centre of the rearguard in the absence of suspended Rooi Mahamutsa in their big match against AC Léopards yesterday.
The goal came after prolonged spells in which the Buccaneers battled the nearly unplayable pitch at Stade Denis Sassou Nguesso more than they did their opponents in Dolisie, Congo-Brazzaville.
Despite the bumpy surface, the Buccaneers held well against a Léopards side that mostly relied on the long ball and set pieces in their attempt to pierce the visitors’ defence.
If it wasn’t the battle to control the ball, it was some nasty challenges from the hosts that broke play and Pirates striker Lennox Bacela came out the worse for wear in an aerial clash, as he was forced to play with a heavily bandaged head for the better part of the opening half.
Bucs also owe their hard-fought victory to goalkeeper Brighton Mhlongo, who backed up his side’s determination with some solid saves that not only shut out Léopards in the opening half, but preserved the win.
It was a morale-boosting one for coach Eric Tinkler’s charges, who will meet Egyptian powerhouse Zamalek at Mbombela Stadium in a fortnight.
While the Pirates defence held their ground in the Congo yesterday, their strike force was kept in check on the opposite end.
The partnership of Bacela and Kermit Erasmus hardly threatened the Léopards rearguard except on the rare occasion when Bacela held off the defenders but took a tame shot at goal in the first half.
Gabuza’s suspension came at the wrong time, as he is currently the team’s form striker with four goals in as many matches for club and country in continental competitions so far.
The 27-year-old also found the target for the national team when he netted in Bafana Bafana’s 3-0 win over Madagascar in the African Nations Championship qualifiers last weekend.
Pirates’ victory yesterday also marked an unbeaten run in seven matches in Africa’s second-tier campaign.
It was sweet revenge for the defeat – by the same scoreline – that Léopards inflicted on the Buccaneers in the group stage of the CAF Champions League at the same Dolisie venue two years ago.