Orlando Pirates’ incredible march towards the African Champions league semi-finals could take another purposeful stride on Sunday, as they take on Cairo giants Zamalek in the Egyptian Red Sea holiday town of El Gouna.
The current turmoil in Cairo has meant that El Gouna, over 400km away from the Egyptian capital, has become the home of both Al Ahly and Zamalek in the group stages of the 2013 Champions League.
Ahly and Zamalek, who hold 12 Champions League titles between them, were the Group A favourites going into the competition. But there is no doubt the violence in Egypt has taken its toll, with the Egyptian Premier League already cancelled for the year.
And Pirates, to their credit, have taken full advantage, hammering Al Ahly 3-0 behind closed doors in El Gouna at the beginning of August and then taking apart Zamalek 4-1 on home ground a couple of weeks later.
That has left Pirates three points clear at the top of the group, with three games to go. With Al Ahly hosting AC Leopards in El Gouna tomorrow, that gap will be narrowed by the time Pirates take to the field on Sunday. But victory for Roger De Sa’s men at the “White Knights” will still put them right on the brink of the last four.
The authorities have relented somewhat on the supporter ban this weekend, allowing a maximum of 3000 fans to attend each of the matches in El Gouna, according to the Al Ahram website.
Still, the Buccaneers will fancy their chances of upsetting another Cairo giant on their own turf, no doubt also boosted by the MTN8 semi-final victory over Kaizer Chiefs on Saturday afternoon.
“It has been a long time since we had a team in the semifinals of this prestigious tournament (the Champions League),” captain Lucky Lekgwathi told the Pirates website yesterday.
“I, in particular, have earmarked this tournament as a benchmark for myself. I have won all trophies in our domestic league and the prospect of qualifying for the semifinals of the ACL this year has given me motivation to inspire the rest of the guys and continue fighting.”
Pirates can also draw inspiration from their demolition of Zamalek in Orlando, where their passing game ripped through the heart of the Cairo side.
“I anticipate a totally different team from the one we beat in Johannesburg,” added Lekgwathi.
“The good thing is that going to this match we go with a broad understanding of the team we will be up against. They are not a closed book to us and that sometimes helps in football.”
Pirates could have Andile Jali back for the game against Zamalek, the midfielder back in the squad after limping out of the clash with the “White Knights” in Orlando.
It has been a disappointing Champions League campaign for Zamalek so far, with just one point from three matches.
“It’s going to be very tough for us,” Zamalek coach Henri Toulan told Cafonline.com. “But we will give our best on Sunday.
“Beating Pirates could be the turning point, especially (given) that both our remaining games will be played in Egypt.
“I hope we overcome these difficult circumstances and achieve a win that sees us back on track”.
Group A: Zamalek v Orlando Pirates; Al Ahly v AC Leopards
Group B: Recreativo de Libolo v Coton Sport; Esperance v Sewe Sport
P W D L F A Pts
Pirates 3 2 1 0 7 1 7
Leopards 3 1 1 1 1 1 4
Al Ahly 3 1 1 1 2 4 4
Zamalek 3 0 1 2 2 6 1
Esperance 3 2 0 1 3 1 6
Coton 3 2 0 1 3 3 6
Sewe 3 1 0 2 3 3 3
Libolo 3 1 0 2 3 5 3 – The Star