The Star Late Edition
Victory over Raja could salvage Pirates’ season
ORLANDO Pirates’ aspirations of finishing in the top three in the Premiership are blurry but they will know that progression to the semi-finals of the Confederation
Cup ahead of Raja Casablanca could salvage their season.
After being the first top-flight team to win silverware via the MTN8 late last year, many pundits tipped the Buccaneers to put up a strong fight in the remaining competitions – the league, Nedbank Cup and Confederation Cup.
But Pirates have been inconsistent in their domestic campaign. They have failed to string together at least three away wins in a row, despite an impressive run at home. That has driven them further behind the chasing pack as they trail league leaders Mamelodi Sundowns by 14 points.
That deficit of being out of the title race means that Pirates can only challenge for second or third in order to qualify for continental football next season. But that's easier said than done as they can't seem to be at their best week in, week out.
They were lucky to share the spoils with Stellenbosch FC in their last encounter, despite coming off an impressive win against strugglers Black Leopards. At home, though, they seem to have lost their mojo especially after the 3-0 defeat to Sundowns in the league.
But they will need their winning manual this Sunday when they host Raja in the first leg of the Confederation Cup quarter-finals. Pirates are unbeaten at home in the competition this season.
Winning this encounter will also put them in good stead heading to the return leg in Morocco in a week's time. The absence of supporters inside and around the match venue doesn’t help Pirates, but they will know the intimidation that will come with the Moroccan ultras away from home.
Progressing to the semis will not only please the Pirates faithful who were overwhelmed with dejection when the team were beaten in the final of the competition by Etoile du Sahel six years ago. But that success could enable everyone to get redemption.
The fact is that Pirates’ season has been below-par, despite winning the MTN8. It is a campaign that has defied the work that was put in by management who bolstered the squad with signings such as defender Thulani Hlatshwayo and Ghanaian No 1 Richard Ofori.
Pressure, as a result, has loomed over coach Josef Zinnbauer who has to help the team to progress as far as it can in the continental competition, while also ensuring they finish third in the league. But so far, he has been stuttering in this regard due to inconsistency.
He will know that if he is going to live to see another term at the club, he, and his troops, will have to tick at least one box from those two targets. It's unfortunate that winning the Confederation Cup doesn't guarantee qualification for the tournament next season.