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.

 ??  ?? Richard Ofori
Richard Ofori

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