Johannesburg – It’s the morning after the deflating day before but Lucky Lekgwathi is in high spirits. That he only got to bed after midnight following the flight back home from the Congo where his Orlando Pirates suffered yet another CAF Champions League defeat does not seem to have distracted him from the Buccaneers’ African dream.
“We’re still going to make the semi-finals,” he says with the confidence of a man who knows what his team are capable of.
Beaten 1-0 by AC Leopards of the Congo in Dolisie on Saturday, Pirates now find themselves needing a result in their final group match at home to Al Ahly on Sunday – the results of yesterday’s Cairo derby between Egyptian giants Ahly and Zamalek notwithstanding.
“Yes, we are disappointed that we lost to Leopards, but it’s not as if we were played off the field. We are still confident in our abilities and I know that Al Ahly are afraid of us after what we did to them in Egypt (Pirates clobbered the Egyptian giants 3-0). If Zamalek beat them (yesterday), all we’ll need is a draw to go through. But we’re going to play for a win and I know we have what it takes to beat them again.”
Looking back at the defeat by Leopards, Lekgwathi lamented their inability to convert the chances they created.
“I think we played very well and we created some good chances early on. We should have converted them because that would have unsettled them a bit, and even before the match I could see they were scared of us,” he explained.
Despite his vast experience of the continental game, the Buccaneers captain expressed disgust at the treatment they received in the Congo and was particularly shocked a match of the magnitude of the Champions League could be played where it was.
“Since I’ve started playing professional, it was the first time I played on such a bad pitch. It reminded me of when I was still young playing in the streets back home.
“I don’t know how CAF could approve such a pathetic pitch. My boots’ studs are finished from just one match, that’s how bad the pitch was.”
Add to that the two-hour wait they endured at the airport waiting to go through customs as well as “small busses” that “were so dusty they seemed they’d not been used for years and we had to stand on our feet all the way” and you understand why Lekgwathi feels it’s about time Africa changed.
“We behave as though we are not all brothers, that’s how bad we get treated when we travel. But we can’t let that distract us from doing our job. And fortunately we play our last game at home on a pitch that will allow us to play our normal game and I’m sure we will win and go to the semis.”
Coach Roger de Sa agrees.
“We’re still in it. We have Al Ahly at home and we will get to play some football on a proper pitch. All is not lost,” he said while praising his team for a gallant effort.
During the first half in particular, Pirates looked capable of getting a result as they traded attacks with their opponents.
They wasted two good chances though, with Thulasizwe Mbuyane and Lennox Bacela missing clear chances.
Incredibly, they sat back after the break – inviting Leopards to come at them until they scored what turned out to be the winner through Dimitri Bissiki’s thunderous half volley from outside the box.
“We defended too deep in the second half,” Lekgwathi admitted “And the real problem was that our guys up front did not press them (Leopards) as much as they did in the first half. So they had enough time and space to build up and we thus found ourselves under pressure.”
Lekgwathi feels, though, that goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa could have done very little with the shot. “There were a lot of bodies in front of him and he was unsighted. If that wasn’t the case I know Senzo would have saved that shot.”
Like their captain, the rest of the Pirates players are still confident of progressing to the last four. “We lost with dignity,” Lekgwathi says. “We played very well and all the players were saying after the match that we should not drop our heads. They allbelieve we will beat Al Ahly and go to the semis.”