at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Starting a Premiership season at the helm of Orlando Pirates’ senior team is not something Augusto Palacios is used to, but, as the Buccaneers begin the defence of their MTN8 trophy this evening, he will know that this is his big chance to lay claim to the post.
Pirates host Bloemfontein Celtic in the first of this weekend’s quarter-finals (Orlando Stadium, 8pm), with all eyes on Palacios to see if the club could enjoy success under him.
He already proved his worth when he found Bucs in crisis last season and pulled them out of a rut into which his predecessor Julio Leal had plunged them.
Palacios led them to league title victory, but his detractors will remind him that he had been the coach for just 12 matches.
On Friday night, he gets to start with the team from scratch, having been part of the pre-season and the one who surely approved several new signings and departures.
There’s a treble to defend, and the MTN8 trophy is key to Palacios’ survival this season as two of his predecessors, Ruud Krol and Leal, managed to annex it.
On Thursday, the man who spent most of his coaching life in the Pirates development structures would not speak about what he called history. “We have to forget about what happened in the past. This is a new season. We have a very committed team and we are taking this game against Celtic very seriously,” Palacios said.
Not a lot has changed in the Pirates set-up from last season, which should help their cause of continuing to be a dominant force in domestic football, but the departure of striker Tokelo Rantie will be keenly felt, even though Palacios tried his best to dismiss that. “If you look at our structure for the past three years, we haven’t changed. We played the same way. When we played Golden Arrows in the last match of the past season, Rantie was not in the first XI. There’s no doubt he’s a good player, but we have six strikers.
“The overseas club (that own him) must understand that we developed him into a Bafana player. But there’s nothing we can do about the situation.”
Rantie’s Swedish club Hasslehom apparently want millions for Pirates to keep the striker on loan for another season.
Bucs have replaced him with, among others, Zimbabwean Takesure Chinyama, but Palacios said the player would miss tonight’s game.
Celtic, meanwhile, should have a new-look about them, with Erick Mathoho having left for Kaizer Chiefs and several new signings joining their stable. Coach Clint Larsen stressed yesterday that Mathoho’s void won’t be felt. “There was life before Mathoho and there will be life after him. He stayed with us for two full seasons, and I believe we got adequate replacements in Brent Lawler and Dominic Isaacs. I have been very impressed with Isaacs and he should form one of the best defensive partnerships in the PSL with Thabo Nthethe.”
Larsen believes he’s made “wise” signings this season, with the likes of Siyabonga Nontshin-ga and Kurt Lentjies likely to be unleashed on Pirates tonight.
“Our pre-season went very well because we got our new signings early. They’ve had time to gel. Obviously we are underdogs because Pirates have been the best side in the league due to the fact that they won the treble. But we’ve brought some experience into the side and we can win the game.”
Tonight: Pirates v Celtic, Orlando, 8pm
Tomorrow: SuperSport v FS Stars, Peter Mokaba, 3pm
Sunday: Sundowns v Chiefs, Loftus, 3pm; Swallows v AmaZulu, Dobsonville, 3pm