Johannesburg – A goalless draw is the perfect result to bring out the middle ground in people. And that is pretty much where Roger de Sa stood after Orlando Pirates had been held by Esperance in the first leg of their African Champions League semi-final.
This was a long way from the perfect result for the Buccaneers to take to Tunis on October 19. Home wins are usually key in continental competition, and Pirates have now won just once in Orlando since the group stages of this year’s Champions League kicked off. At some stage it could well come back to bite them, quite possibly in fortress Esperance.
Then again, the fact that the Tunisian giants failed to score an away goal gives Pirates hope that they can go to the Tunisian capital and emerge victors. After all, with a draw the Bucs are through to a first final since 1995.
Esperance coach Maher Kanzari was perhaps playing mind games, but said that he rated the tie as “50/50”.
“I am not over the moon with the result, but I am happy with the performance,” was De Sa’s view.
“Like Esperance, we had one or two chances that we would have liked to have put away, like (Sifiso) Myeni’s header and Lennox’s (Bacela) shot.
“I am upset that we had chances but their goalkeeper never had to make a save until the second half. But the performance overall was good. And it is not entirely a bad result – 0-0 is better than 1-1 or 2-2.
“We had a (MTN8) cup final, two games against Chiefs, we played Al Ahly and Zamalek, it has been hectic. So to have this type of effort and come back and play like we did, I can’t ask for more,” added the Pirates coach.
There was no doubt, however, that defeat would have been harsh on Esperance, who held Pirates at bay for much of the game with consummate ease. The Buccaneers were at times painfully slow in their transition from defence into attack, and very few times did they get in behind the Esperance back four.
Bacela had an early effort blocked, and Myeni headed Oupa Manyisa’s cross wide, but there was nothing to suggest Pirates were capable of getting the three or more goals a couple of their players had touted before the game.
Pirates took until the last 10 minutes to truly test Esperance goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifia, who did brilliantly to claw away a Thabo Matlaba piledriver.
The Bucs have now failed to score in their last three Champions League games, a worrying statistic.
“Of course we know it is an issue, we practice (scoring) every day. We don’t want to go out and play nice football and not score. It (scoring) is why we play football,” said De Sa.
It was Esperance who might have taken the lead inside the first 10 minutes, their powerful Cameroonian striker Yannick N’Djeng first curling an effort just off target, and then, running through on goal, drawing a great save from Senzo Meyiwa.
Pirates were troubled by the runs of right wing-back Sameh Derbali, while Ghanain Harrison Afful’s runs from midfield were also a constant threat.
“Nil-nil is a result that makes problems for us,” said Kanzari.
“I think it is 50/50, the chances (of going through) are the same. The two teams made a good game, but no one scored. We had chances, they had chances. It will be a tough game for us in Tunis and also for Orlando Pirates. It is open, we have to score, and if we score one and they score one, they go through.”
Esperance do have, however, something of a home fortress in Tunis. They have won all their home games at the Stade Olympique de Rades in this year’s Champions League. Their only defeat in the last four editions of the competition came against Al Ahly, where they lost 2-1 in the final, second leg.
Pirates seem certain to play in front of a fervent capacity crowd of around 65000 in Tunis, a stark contrast to Orlando on Saturday, where there was a less than impressive attendance.
De Sa admitted that this trend does not help South African teams in Africa.
“It is disappointing for a game of this magnitude,” he said. “It was like this even when Al Ahly and Zamalek came here. I think it comes from us being out of the competition for many years, and not realising its value. We have got to learn to attend these types of games ... we can be sure when we go there it will be a full house.”