Weighs de­cid­ing fac­tors ahead of Pi­rates’ cru­cial Con­fed Cup match against AC Leop­ards on Satur­day

Daniel Mothowagae

CityPress - - Sport - Brighton Mh­longo and Thabo Rakhale fac­tor throw span­ner in the works to-head Tinkler’s pos­si­ble tac­tics

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.

PHOTO: SYD­NEY MAHLANGU / BACKPAGEPIX

FLOORED

The in­jured Brighton Mh­longo

PHOTO: LEFTY SHIVAMBU / GALLO IM­AGES

MA­GI­CIAN Thabo Rakhale is ex­pected to be fit for Pi­rates’ up­com­ing games against Chippa United on Tues­day and AC Leop­ards on Satur­day

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