Time to up the pace in Africa

Pi­rates and Sun­downs need to change their rep­u­ta­tion as slow starters

Cape Times - - SPORT - SOC­CER COR­RE­SPON­DENT

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.

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