Johannesburg – Roger de Sa says Orlando Pirates won’t play for a draw when they take on Esperance in Saturday’s African Champions League second leg tie in Tunisia.
Pirates departed for the north African country on Wednesday night, needing a score draw to progress to next month’s final, but De Sa, speaking after Bucs’ final training session at Rand Stadium on Wednesday, said it would be suicidal to go to Tunis with a draw in mind.
“We can’t afford to do that,” said De Sa. “You have to play every game to win. The moment you have an attitude of playing for a draw, things might get out of hand and it may backfire. We have prepared this team to win.”
With the first leg having been tied 0-0 at Orlando Stadium two weeks ago, a win at the Stade Olympique Rades (8pm SA time) is not paramount for Bucs. If they score once, Esperance will require two goals to deny them a path to the continental club championship final.
But Pirates have not been firing on all cylinders of late. They have failed to win any of their previous four Champions League games, losing away back-to-back to Zamalek and AC Leopards, and drawing at home with Al Ahly and Esperance.
De Sa, however, will tell his players upon arrival in Tunis on Thursday that victory is not an impossibility. “In the first leg, we grew in confidence and should actually have won the game. Esperance had two chances in the opening 10 minutes, and that was it. (Goalkeeper) Senzo (Meyiwa) was virtually a spectator in the second half. Going there with 0-0 is not bad at all. It will be tough for Esperance to protect that result.”
Keeping a cleansheet in what’s expected to be hostile Tunis conditions may be difficult for Pirates, not least after De Sa revealed on Wednesday that Lucky Lekgwathi – for the sixth game running – won’t feature in Saturday’s match.
Lekgwathi fell out with the Pirates hierarchy following a scathing column he wrote after being omitted from the MTN8 final squad last month.
He was at the Pirates training session on Wednesday, and was handed the duty of introducing the squad members to sports minister Fikile Mbalula and Gauteng sports MEC Lebogang Maile, who had visited the Bucs base for well-wishes.
But Lekgwathi trained with the players who are remaining behind. “He hasn’t played for a while so I don’t think it would be fair to throw him into this game,” De Sa said of the central defender. “He has complained about not playing, but I have 19 other guys who don’t get to play, and they are not happy about it. It is normal. For this game, we’ll go with the team we’ve had for the last few weeks.”
Missing from that team is Siyabonga Sangweni, the central defender, and De Sa will have to fill the hole at the back with Ayanda Gcaba, while rightback Happy Jele will take the captain’s armband.
The Bucs defence will, as a result, be a bit shaky, but De Sa says his team will look to hurt Esperance rather than just defend. “We scored three goals in our last game (against Black Aces), so we are confident. Beyond that, we scored the most goals in our group. We scored four against Zamalek and three against Ahly – the best teams in the continent. We may have had a bit of a goal drought but who doesn’t have a drought? Even Barcelona get a drought. I’m confident that we can go there and unlock Esperance’s defence. Guys like Sox (Tlou Segolela), Sifiso Myeni and Oupa (Manyisa) can unlock any defence in the world.”
Mbalula and Maile, meanwhile, encouraged Pirates to “fly the flag” and do the country proud as they gave political talk to the squad. “It’s nice to get recognition like this. The players now know that this is not just about Pirates, but about the whole country,” De Sa said of the politicians’ surprise visit.