Durban – If Orlando Pirates dial the right buttons in the MTN8 final on Saturday it could serve as perfect preparation for their charge towards continental glory.
The MTN8 final against Platinum Stars at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 8.15pm) will start a crucial seven days or so for Pirates, who host Tunisian giants Esperance in the first leg of their African Champions League semi-final next Saturday. .
If they can safely negotiate any potential injury pot-holes in the final, and emerge victorious at the same time, then the Sea Robbers would have enjoyed an ideal warm-up for the bigger challenge that awaits against the Tunisians on October 5.
Pirates have already been helped again in their continental campaign by the Premier Soccer League, who announced yesterday that the Buccaneers’ Telkom Knockout last 16 clash with MP Black Aces, originally scheduled for Wednesday, has now been moved to October 8, to give Pirates a clear week of Champions League preparation.
Already this week Pirates were boosted by the news that midfielder Andile Jali’s shoulder injury was not as serious as initially believed. The initial MRI scans revealed that he would be out for six months but a second opinion showed that he had not suffered ligament injury.
Jali was cleared to resume training, although it’s unlikely he will be rushed into action tonight after he missed the side’s last two matches. However another midfielder, Thandani Ntshumayelo, is ready to play after he limped off injured following the quarter-final win over SuperSport United last month.
In Jali’s absence Lehlogonolo Masalesa stepped into the midfield. His performances impressed Platinum Stars assistant coach Willem Jackson, who said their former player would be a key figure in the direction that the midfield battle swayed. “He’s our former player and we know what he’s capable of. The midfield will be a very tight area with lots of strong tackles,” said Jackson, himself a former Buccaneer.
Jackson conceded Stars were the underdogs, but promised they would be pumped up for the battle that determines the winner of the R8 million prize and trophy: “Pirates can write their name on the African Champions League trophy; we want to write our names on this one.
“It will be good for the players to have something to show for their careers, such as a medal for their hard work. Players like Benson (Mhlongo) and Vuyo (Mere) have been here for a while and it’s time they won something with the club,” said Jackson.
Veteran Mhlongo was a stand-out defender as Stars finished second in the league last season and his leadership will be counted on to guide Stars past his old club. The clash also reunites other old team-mates, some of them in their home town. Besides Jackson going up against his former Pirates team-mate, Teboho Moloi, who is Pirates assistant coach, Stars boast a rejuvenated ex-Buccaneer in striker Siphelele Mthembu.
Durban-born Mthembu boasts five goals in league and cup competitions so far. His scoring form was recently rewarded with a national call-up. No doubt fellow Durbanites, defender Siyabonga Sangweni and goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa, will try to keep a leash on Mthembu and co-striker Henrico Botes.
At the opposite end Lennox Bacela will be the go-to-man for goals as Pirates attempt to annex the cup for the third time in the last four years. Along with Mthembu he leads the competition’s scoring charts with three goals and has shown the character to carry the scoring burden domestically and internationally. With the likes of winger Daine Klate and fellow attacker Kermit Erasmus also on form, it should prove a busy night for the defenders.
Independent on Saturday