Untouchable in the African Champions League, suspect on the domestic front – even Jerry Sikhosana is baffled by his former club Orlando Pirates’ contrasting form.
Pirates scored impressive wins over Egyptian giants Al-Ahly and Zamalek – which sent them to the top of their group – but that could not mask their topsy-turvy home form which saw them lose to AmaZulu and require a penalty-shoot-out to squeeze past SuperSport United in the MTN8 quarter-finals.
As they face rivals Kaizer Chiefs in Saturday’s semifinal first leg (FNB Stadium, 3pm), Bucs legend Sikhosana conceded he found Pirates’ disparity in performance inexplicable.
“It’s difficult to understand how they can be so great in the Champions League, and then go on to lose to AmaZulu,” the man whose goal in 1995 secured Bucs the continental title said yesterday. “I mean, they didn’t just beat the best two teams in Africa; they did so convincingly.”
Sikhosana, however, has pinpointed one problem: Roger de Sa’s tinkering with selection.
“If you look at the AmaZulu game, there were many changes there, but the costly one was the absence of (Lucky) Lekgwathi. I don’t understand why he was dropped to the bench. He’s got leadership and organisational skills. You can’t take that away from him. If he’s absent, you can notice that immediately. Lekgwathi may be old but he’s a very intelligent player.”
Talk in the Pirates set up has been of Siyabonga Sangweni’s recovery from injury and his possible availability for Saturday’s crunch first-leg clash.
But Sikhosana says he wouldn’t take a risk of throwing the central defender into the lineup, like was the case when Pirates last met Chiefs in an official game – back in March when, incidentally, Sangweni last played a competitive game.
“It’s good that he’s now fit, but you can’t tamper with the defence for such a crucial game. Unless there’s an injury, the back five should remain Senzo (Meyiwa), (Happy) Jele, Lekgwathi, (Rooi) Mahamutsa and (Thabo) Matlaba. They have done well in the two Champions League games, conceding just once. The moment you start to fiddle with the defence, Chiefs will have the upper hand. You need consistency in selection.”
Sikhosana added fatigue should not be used as an excuse for constantly altering the starting XI. “In our time it was even worse. We used to spend an entire week in an African country, play and come back to play a league game in midweek. But the lineup didn’t change. Today you hear coaches talking about players being tired, fatigued, and some fancy words being used. The bottom line is you shouldn’t tamper with a winning combination.”
Sikhosana, who is now a television pundit, says he expects nothing less than an open game, even as Saturday’s game is a first leg clash where Pirates are the “away” team.
“I think both teams should play their normal games – you can’t afford to be cautious, thinking about the second leg. Two legs don’t matter in a game like this. Pirates have used Soccer City as a home venue too, and some of Chiefs’ players are from Soweto where the second leg will take place (in Orlando on September 24). I’d like to see an entertaining game,” he said.
The last time the Soweto giants clashed over two legs in the semi-final of the MTN8 in 2010, Pirates emerged 2-1 aggregate winners, Bucs winning 1-0 in the second leg after the first was tied 1-1. – The Star