Roger de Sa faces a selection conundrum this afternoon as Orlando Pirates look to take another decisive step towards the African Champions League semi-finals when they take on Egypt’s Zamalek (kick-off 4pm).
In their 18-man travelling squad to El Gouna, the Red Sea town which hosts today’s group-phase clash, the Buccaneers included Siyabonga Sangweni and Andile Jali, meaning De Sa will have to scratch his head about who he’ll leave out of the starting XI.
Defender Sangweni has not played a competitive game since March, but is considered more reliable than, for instance, Rooi Mahamutsa, who has started all recent Pirates fixtures.
Jali, on the other hand, limped off in Pirates’ 4-1 win over Zamalek in the home leg two weeks ago, and his replacement, Lehlogonolo Masalesa, ensured the Bafana midfielder was hardly missed by churning out successive man-of-the-match performances, including last week’s Soweto Derby against Kaizer Chiefs in the MTN8.
De Sa will probably consider several factors when deciding on his team this morning.
Today’s match is a do-or-die battle for Zamalek, who are at the bottom of Group A with one point and face elimination from the tournament if they lose.
Pirates, on the other hand, would almost certainly book a semi-final spot with victory, which would push them up to 10 points.
De Sa will have to assess the risk of tampering with a line-up which, in the past two games, demolished Zamalek and got a key win over Chiefs.
Persisting with it, however, would mean there’s no place for either Sangweni or Jali from the start, but what if something goes awry?
The notoriously fickle Pirates fans would accuse De Sa of taking too great a risk in an away game in which a victory is not imperative.
As much as Maselesa did extremely well in the previous two games, benching a fully fit and more experienced Jali would be too risky.
De Sa can afford to leave Sangweni on the bench, and perhaps throw him in if required.
Zamalek, meanwhile, have made it clear they want a win at all costs, given that they are the only Group A team without a victory after three games.
They drew with local rivals Al-Ahly in their first match, and lost to AC Leopards and Pirates on the road.
“We have to restore Zamalek’s dignity; this is much more important than just winning the game,” midfielder Nour Al-Sayed was quoted as saying by FilGoal.com.
“We have no option but to win to boost our chances of qualification.”
Another Zamalek player, Hani Said, echoed the same sentiments. “There are no options for us; we have to win. Only a victory will get us back on track for a semifinals place.”
Said was quoted as adding: “The return of defender Mahmoud Fathallah and striker Ahmed Gaafar from suspension will provide a big boost, as we missed their experience in South Africa.”
This is a strong indication that Pirates will not face the same Zamalek that succumbed meekly in Orlando two weeks ago.
With three games to go, Zamalek can finish on a maximum of 10 points if they win them all, but that will have to start today.
Pirates, however, may have to deploy a more cautious approach, as De Sa highlighted the fact that his team are no longer a closed book after beating the two Egyptian sides Zamalek and Al-Ahly with a combined scoreline of 7-1.
What should help Pirates is that they are familiar with surroundings in El Gouna and they spent five days there this week, acclimatising to temperatures that are expected to hover around the 40ºC mark during today’s game. - Sunday Independent