Johannesburg – Roger de Sa concedes Orlando Pirates’ African Champions League run is more pertinent than any other domestic fixture, hence the Buccaneers will go all out to progress to the semi-finals when they take on Al Ahly on Sunday – even if that could mean they are exhausted before the Soweto derby two days later.
After suffering two back-to-back defeats in the continental club championship, Pirates face a must-win situation against Ahly to book a semi-final berth, and De Sa, speaking after Bucs laboured to a 1-0 win over Polokwane City this week, accepted Sunday’s tie at Orlando (2.30pm) was the club’s most important.
“There’s no doubt that winning the Champions League is more prestigious. When you achieve it, you go to the Fifa Club World Cup.
“Imagine Pirates against Real Madrid, or any other top team in the world. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime. Everyone would want to experience that,” De Sa said.
His remarks mean Pirates won’t be thinking too much about Tuesday’s MTN8 semi-final second leg against rivals Kaizer Chiefs, into which Bucs take a 1-0 advantage from the first leg.
“What can we do? We have two cracker games coming up in 48 hours and we have to cope with it. We have to give our best in both. But the priority now is the Al-Ahly game. After that, we’ll have an ice-bath, lie down for a day and then face Chiefs.”
Pirates were forced to move the Al Ahly fixture from Saturday to Sunday and, aside from the fact that they will now have a little over 24 hours rest before taking on Amakhosi, they will have to cope with an unfamiliar kick-off time for a home fixture.
“We’ve played all our home Champions League games on a Saturday night. But now we have to play at 2pm on Sunday. We have tried to adjust to it by training at that time this week to get used to the heat,” De Sa said.
He admitted Bucs were “lethargic” in their narrow win over Premiership newcomers Polokwane, with men such as Lucky Lekgwathi, Daine Klate and Lennox Bacela given a rest.
“The key here is player management. We’ve travelled a lot and that takes a toll on the players. That’s why we looked a bit tired.
“But I thought we should have played better with the team we sent out. It was not a weakened side, but I’m just happy with getting a win following our two losses to Zamalek and AC Leopards. We now have confidence going into the Al Ahly game.”
While Lekgwathi, Klate and Bacela are almost all certain to return for Sunday’s clash, Andile Jali’s participation will depend on what a scan on his shoulder shows.
“It’s a worry, but we have to see what the medical team says,” De Sa said of the Bafana midfielder.
With three of the four Group A teams in with a chance of qualifying for the semi-finals, De Sa said he’ll keep tabs with what happens in the other clash between Zamalek and Leopards.
“We’ll get people monitoring what’s going on there. I have friends in Cairo and they will update us. We don’t want a situation where we celebrate prematurely.
“We know we have to win and Ahly know a draw is good enough for them.
“We may have beaten them in the first game but that was because there was an element of surprise. This time they will come well prepared.”
Zamalek v AC Leopards
Orlando Pirates v Al Ahly
P W D L F A Pts
Ahly 5 3 1 1 8 7 10
Leopards 5 2 1 2 3 3 7
Pirates 5 2 1 2 8 4 7
Zamalek 5 1 1 3 6 11 4
Recreativo de Libolo v Sewe Sport
Coton Sport v Esperance
P W D L F A Pts
Esperance 5 4 0 1 7 3 12
Coton 5 2 2 1 4 4 8
Sewe 5 1 1 3 3 4 4
Libolo 5 1 1 3 6 9 4
*NB CAF are using head-to-head record instead of goal difference
*If Pirates win, they will win progress to the semi-finals as group winners
*A draw will be enough if AC Leopards lose to Zamalek, but Pirates would progress as group runners up.
*If Pirates lose, they are out.
*If both games end in draws, Ahly and Leopards will go through
*If Pirates lose and Zamalek beat Leopards, Ahly and Leopards go through
*If Pirates and Leopards both win, Pirates and Ahly go through on head-to-head record
*Zamalek are basically out of contention as they can only finish third