Weighs deciding factors ahead of Pirates’ crucial Confed Cup match against AC Leopards on Saturday
domestic form vs a good continental run Pirates have beaten the best in Africa and it is clear the team doubles its efforts against unfamiliar foes. The Buccaneers are driven by the desire to make history – by reaching the semifinals of the second-tier continental club competition. With one eye firmly on a realistic chance of success in the Confed Cup, Pirates’ domestic form has suffered. But the club has enough depth in its squad to deal with fatigue.
Injuries to goalkeeper Brighton Mhlongo (torn knee ligament) and midfielder Thabo Rakhale (strained groin) caused panic in the Pirates camp this week.
Coach Eric Tinkler will now look to reserve goalie Felipe Ovono, as Mhlongo has been ruled out for six to eight weeks following surgery to fix his knee.
Ovono is not new to continental competition, as he gained valuable experience as Equatorial Guinea’s number one. The 22-year-old will mark his first start for Bucs in the Confed Cup. He impressed in the few minutes he replaced Mhlongo in Pirates’ midweek 10 league loss to SuperSport United.
Rakhale may be declared fit for Pirates’ league match against Chippa United on Tuesday – in time for the Leopards clash at Orlando Stadium on Saturday.
The dribbling wizard has been the Bucs’ special player, swinging play in the team’s favour during attacks. Rakhale and Sifiso Myeni on the left flank are key to the Bucs attack, as the duo has the ability to make up for the team’s misfiring strikers.
The Congo-Brazzaville outfit was virtually dead and buried in the race, but like wounded leopards in the wild, the Central African side charged back into contention with a 1-0 win over group leaders Zamalek in Dolisie last Sunday.
By handing Zamalek their first loss in the group phase, Leopards denied Pirates and Zamalek automatic qualification, as the two seemed destined for semifinal berths with two games to spare.
If Leopards, who have four points in the bag, win their remaining two games – against Pirates and CS Sfaxien – they can progress to the semis. Leopards will also hope for Zamalek to beat Pirates in Cairo on the same day that the Congolese wrap up their campaign against Sfaxien at home. Based on Pirates’ record against Leopards, the game is too close to call.
The Congolese side held Pirates to a goalless draw in Soweto during the 2013 CAF Champions League group stage. The Niari Wild Beasts then defeated the Buccaneers 1-0 in the return leg of the premier tournament at home.
The teams are now all square after Pirates beat the Leopards 1-0 at their bumpy ground in Dolisie, Congo, in their Group B opening match last month.
Leopards will come out guns blazing in Soweto, as beating Pirates is the only way to keep their hopes alive in the competition.
The Congolese side often resort to long balls in their build-up play but are persistent in attack. They are also a hard-marking side that takes shots from long range – Pirates in comparison tend to go for an extra touch even when they have clear sight of the goal.
Tinkler should therefore deploy the same tactics that took down CS Sfaxien last Saturday: tactical discipline at the back and the use of a gifted dribbler to crack the opposition defence.
A draw will still be enough for Pirates to progress, as Leopards will only get to eight points if they beat Sfaxien on the final day of group play next month.
The injured Brighton Mhlongo
MAGICIAN Thabo Rakhale is expected to be fit for Pirates’ upcoming games against Chippa United on Tuesday and AC Leopards on Saturday