Orlando Pirates (0) 1
Kaizer Chiefs (1) 1
First leg: Chiefs 0, Pirates 1
Pirates win 2-1 on aggregate
Orlando Stadium - It was perhaps profound that this Soweto Derby took place on Heritage Day; and a fixture that truly defines South African football didn’t disappoint as it produced edge-of-the-seat stuff, almost a dozen bookings and was ultimately decided by what some would deem a fairly contentious penalty.
Orlando Pirates, in spite of having come into this MTN8 semi-final second leg on the back of a taxing African Champions League tie just 48 hours earlier, staged a massive post-match celebration that included dancing on the pitch and embracing their supporters, which summed up the importance of this match.
Pirates, after requiring a Lennox Bacela penalty with 15 minutes to go to cancel out Bernard Parker’s opener for Kaizer Chiefs, march on to Saturday’s final in Durban, their third in four seasons in this competition.
The first two, in 2010 and 2011, were won by the Buccaneers and, after this huge result which came after a fraught, close semi-final tie against their old rivals, there’s no doubt they’ll back themselves to clinch a third.
Whether they still have enough energy in their tank remains to be seen, however, but after a hectic season which has seen Bucs fulfilling Champions League games throughout the continent, reaching the final of this competition is a heroic feat by Roger de Sa’s men.
De Sa was hoisted high by several members of his team, including players and staff, which was appropriate given that only a few months ago he was uncertain of whether he’ll still be at the helm.
The Champions League group phase had reduced him to a freelance coach, with every match filled with speculation around what would happen to him should Pirates fail.
The situation going into this derby was even worse, given that Pirates had advantage from the first leg.
Had they lost it, there’s little doubt some among the notoriously fickle Ghost may have sought to blame the coach, as is their wont.
But De Sa, just like he did when some doubted whether his men could qualify for the Champions League group phase at the expense of TP Mazembe or Zamalek, once again passed his test with flying colours.
He took a major gamble, starting with nine players who had played in Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Al-Ahly at this stadium. But Pirates still began sprightly, Kermit Erasmus sending a long-range effort over Itumeleng Khune’s crossbar early on.
Chiefs, on the other hand, were a largely improved unit from the first leg, and they put sufficient pressure on Pirates to deserve a 1-0 lead at halftime.
Parker, profiting from a rebound after Senzo Meyiwa had done well to parry a Tefu Mashamaite header, slotted home to send Amakhosi into delirium.
At 1-1 on aggregate, the match would have gone to penalties had it remained this way, and it was quite shocking that Stuart Baxter’s men seemed content to settle for this as they retreated into a defensive mode in the early stages of the second half.
With De Sa having introduced Sifiso Myeni for the ineffective Tlou Segolela at the break, Pirates’ attack was fresher, but still, it was a surprise that Chiefs’ response was to counter it by backing off when a single goal from Bucs would lead to defeat.
It duly arrived on the 75th minute, when referee Daniel Bennett ruled that Morgan Gould had impeded Rooi Mahamutsa as the duo awaited a delivery from a Pirates corner. Bennett’s decision drew vehement protests from Chiefs, with captain Khune flirting with danger by heckling the referee.
But the decision stood, Bacela coolly beating the Bafana Bafana No1 to ensure a tense finish.
Why Baxter prefers Kingston Nkhatha to Lehlohonolo Majoro is a mystery among Amakhosi fans, and yet again, the Zimbabwean was the Chiefs coach’s first sub. While Nkhatha’s first contribution was to get himself booked, and generally looked out-of-sorts, Majoro provided Chiefs with their best effort at getting a second goal that would have sent them into the final, only for his left-foot drive to sail wide of Meyiwa’s goal right at the death.
With that, Chiefs players slumped on to the turf, heads buried in their hands, while Pirates erupted into wild celebrations.