Pi­rates chas­ing their African dream

A 2-2 draw will bring the tro­phy home, but coach De Sa ex­pects a tough Al Ahly in Cairo

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - NKARENG MATSHE

OR­LANDO PI­RATES have played five matches against Egyp­tian op­po­si­tion since Au­gust and, while they were un­be­liev­ably suc­cess­ful in their first two, they have been found out by the op­po­si­tion in the lat­ter three.

Pi­rates ham­mered Al-Ahly and Za­malek in their open­ing two African Cham­pi­ons League group phase games, send­ing shock­waves through­out con­ti­nen­tal foot­ball. But as they head into to­mor­row’s fi­nal, sec­ond leg, against Ahly here, they know they are no longer a closed book and will have to per­form ex­cep­tion­ally well to re­turn with the tro­phy.

Roger de Sa ac­knowl­edged yes­ter­day that while his team have done well to come this far, it was be­com­ing more dif­fi­cult to get re­sults, un­like the case in the open­ing stages, when they ham­mered Ahly 3- 0 in El Gouna and Za­malek 4- 1 in Soweto.

“In our last two matches against Ahly, they were bet­ter pre­pared than in the first. They have stud­ied us so much that it would be fu­tile to have a closed train­ing ses­sion.

“We play the same way, and they too have the same ap­proach. We may have been a bit of a closed book at the be­gin­ning, but now ev­ery­one knows we are not go­ing to change our strat­egy much. All our games have been on TV, so peo­ple see we play the same way,” De Sa said.

Pi­rates may have to al­ter tac­tics to emerge vic­to­ri­ous at the Arab Con­trac­tors Sta­dium to­mor­row evening ( 6pm SA time). That they are now known, as De Sa said, has left Pi­rates win­less in six suc­ces­sive Cham­pi­ons League games. Two games against Ahly ended in draws, in­clud­ing last week’s 1-1 re­sult in the first leg at Or­lando, which has left Bucs with a moun­tain­ous task of hav­ing to score here to stand a chance of claim­ing the tro­phy and $ 1.5m first prize.

Pi­rates also lost to AC Leop­ards and Za­malek in the group phase, and qual­i­fied for the fi­nal af­ter draw­ing 0-0 and 1-1 with Esper­ance.

To­mor­row, a win is not nec­es­sar­ily a must, with Bucs able to claim the cham­pi­onship with a 2-2 draw or more, but not since their thrash­ing of Za­malek on Au­gust 17 have they been able to score more than once in this com­pe­ti­tion.

“Ahly are in the lead be­cause they want only a clean­sheet to win it. So I don’t ex­pect that they will change their ap­proach. It will be a cat-and­mouse sit­u­a­tion, like it was at Or­lando (last week). They will come with a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 for­ma­tion, at­tack in the first 10 min­utes and re­treat. They then press on in the late stages of the half,” De Sa said.

It’s un­likely the Pi­rates coach will de­ploy a two-striker ap­proach as Len­nox Bacela and Collins Mbe­suma have hardly started to­gether through­out this com­pe­ti­tion.

Si­fiso Myeni has been Bucs’

“Ahly are in the lead be­cause they want only a clean­sheet to win it. So I don’t ex­pect that they will change their ap­proach that much. It will be a cat-and-mouse sit­u­a­tion, like it was at Or­lando.”

main link man, start­ing at­tack­ing from mid­field and feed­ing Bacela, but De Sa could be tempted to push him into a wide po­si­tion be­cause in the first leg, Ahly as­signed two men to mark him, sig­nif­i­cantly cut­ting out sup­ply to Bacela.

Pi­rates will mean­while, train at the Arab Con­trac­tors Sta­dium this evening, and the state of the pitch should tell De Sa if it would be pos­si­ble for Pi­rates to im­pose their nor­mal pass­ing game which, in the ab­sence of sus­pended Andile Jali, could be a chal­lenge on a bumpy sur­face.

De Sa, how­ever, knows he and his play­ers are just one game away from his­tory, with vic­tory set to en­sure their names are re­mem­bered for years to come.

“A lot of peo­ple be­lieve we have a chance, and that was not the case a few months ago. I re­ceived many mes­sages from my col­leagues back home, in­clud­ing Pitso Mosi­mane and Stu­art Bax­ter. I know we’ve been stuff­ing up the do­mes­tic sched­ule but it’s great that we have made it this far.”

If only Pi­rates can give it one last push and an­nex only South Africa’s sec­ond Cham­pi­ons ti­tle.

GALLO IM­AGES

LINK MAN: Si­fiso Myeni of Pi­rates gets his pass away dur­ing a re­cent Cham­pi­ons League match be­tween Pi­rates and Al Ahly . His pres­ence to­mor­row as a feeder for the at­tack could prove cru­cial in Roger de Sa’s plans.

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