Johannesburg – William Okpara, the Orlando Pirates legend who was a member of the squad that conquered the continent in 1995, says the current line-up should seek to seal the African Champions League on Saturday rather than wait for the second leg.
Pirates are two matches away from repeating the historic feat of 18 years ago, when Okpara and his teammates confounded predictions and beat a strong Asec Abidjan, of Ivory Coast.
The Buccaneers face a similarly feared Al-Ahly, the continent’s most successful club side with seven titles, over two legs in this year’s final starting Saturday (Orlando Stadium, 8.30pm).
Bucs coach Roger de Sa said this week that the tie won’t be decided this weekend, but Okpara feels they can wrap it up and not repeat the mistake of his generation, who could only draw 2-2 in the first leg and endured a tense second away leg before Jerry Sikhosana found a late winner in Abidjan.
“We have to win the cup here, not in Cairo,” said Okpara, who has remained in Pirates’ employ since his retirement in 2004.
“We need to score goals without conceding, and travel there next week knowing the job is done.”
But Okpara, as Pirates’ goalkeeper 18 years ago, let in two goals in the first leg, giving Asec the initiative before Sikhosana stunned them in the second match.
“It wasn’t our plan to draw the home leg, but once we didn’t lose we knew we had a chance.
“We told ourselves that if Asec could come here and draw 2-2, we too could go there and score twice. Fortunately, we managed to keep a cleansheet and won 1-0.”
Okpara acknowledged the current bunch have it tougher, with the two-leg final against Ahly bringing to 16 the number of matches they played in continental football this year, whereas in 1995, you needed just eight or nine games to be crowned champions.
“Today’s players have it harder, that’s true,” the Nigerian said.
“They have played more games than us because of this group stage thing. It (the group stage) is truly taxing because you have six games there. In our time we didn’t have that. You just went straight to the quarter-final, semi-final and final, even though it was over two legs.”
Okpara paid tribute to the current squad, saying they had shown great resilience to come through and see Pirates to their second final in history. “Their hard work has paid off. We have a bunch of determined players.
“You look at where they started from, how they travelled throughout the continent, and can only marvel at such determination.
“The belief and faith in this team carried them this far. Now there’s just one more hurdle to get past.”
The now 46-year-old, who with 375 games still holds the record for the most appearances in Pirates’ colours, is the only member of the ‘95 squad still linked with the club, with the rest having moved on.
This puts him in a unique situation, whereby he stands to become the only Bucs man to taste victory in the Champions League as player and then as a member of the technical team.
“That would be a great honour, to win this competition as player and manager,” said Okpara, who was named Bucs’ goalkeeper trainer before his designation was recently changed to team liaison officer.
One of Pirates’ mainstays in the run up to the final has been the performance of Senzo Meyiwa, who for years worked under Okpara’s tutelage before winning a start in the first team.
“He’s been marvellous,” Okpara said of the Pirates No1.
“I remember seeing him playing for the juniors and recommending that he be promoted to the first team.
“When he got here competition was tough. (Former Pirates ‘keeper) Moeneeb Josephs was good, and I told Senzo his time would come. I’m happy to see he’s taken his chance and has never looked back.”