Time to up the pace in Africa
Pirates and Sundowns need to change their reputation as slow starters
ORLANDO Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns’ best quality is also their weakness. If they don’t work on it, they will be punished in the CAF Champions League where there’s little room for error, unlike in the domestic league where they ruled the roost last season.
The Buccaneers and the Brazilians tend to start slow, allowing their opponents to take a head start before responding strongly. Pirates had a stuttering start to their league campaign last season but once they clicked, they were a well-oiled machine that challenged Sundowns for the Absa Premiership a season after they were almost relegated. The Brazilians also have a similar problem, which is why they tend to struggle in the MTN8 because as coach Pitso Mosimane puts it, “they’re still finding their feet at that time because the MTN8 is a ‘pre-season’ tournament”.
These two South African giants, who are flying their flag in the continent’s premier club competition, had a slow start to their Champions League campaign. Pirates had a better start than Sundows. The Buccaneers returned from Zimbabwe with a point after playing with a goalless draw with FC Platinum. It was a precious points since all four teams in Group B are on a point after the first round. Esperance and Horoya played to a 1-1 draw on Friday.
The Buccaneers now have to collect maximum points against last season’s quarterfinalists Horoya. The Guinean side will be making their third trip to the country in three years. Last year they were in the same group with Sundowns and two years ago they were grouped with SuperSport United in the CAF Confederation Cup. Their pedigree in the continent has improved but they aren’t a force just yet. Pirates’ attack should see them collect maximum points, especially if they take the game to Horoya from the first whistle and not wait for them to do something before they react. The engine that coach Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic said was cold due to the short break is now warm after three testing encounters. Sredojevic admitted that his team’s defence has been below par. A clean sheet against Zimbabwean champions will give them confidence.
The Brazilians also have to collect maximum points on Saturday against 2017 Champions League winners Wydad Casablanca. This tough contest will bring the best out of Sundowns who struggle against minnows in the continent but hold their own against Africa’s big boys. Sundowns have to shift that mental approach if they are to return to the heights they reached when they conquered the continent in 2016. Last year they were eliminated in the group stage because they struggled against minnows in a relatively easy group which had Casablanca, Horoya and AS Togo-Port.
This season’s group is slightly tougher but they should have enough to finish in the top two.
But that won’t happen if they are lethargic against minnows. Sundowns have struggled to handle the attention they receive now that they’re counted among former Champions League winners.
They were lethal when they were still making their name in the continent. But now they play with an element of caution, held back by the fear not to be embarrassed by minnows.