Johannesburg – After two trips up north to Egypt, which yielded contrasting results, Orlando Pirates head to Central Africa this weekend knowing that they could get knocked off their perch if they come away with anything less than a victory.
Top of Group A for the last three rounds in the Champions League group stages, Pirates face AC Leopards in their penultimate group stage clash in Congo Brazzaville on Saturday, needing a victory to avoid a win at all costs clash against Al Ahly in their final match at home.
A win on Saturday would take Roger de Sa’s men to 10 points and put them under less pressure when they face Al Ahly, who have recently clawed their way back in contention for a semi-final berth with two consecutive victories over Leopards. Those two wins put them level on points with the Buccaneers, who have a superior goal difference, going into the fifth round of fixtures this weekend.
Pirates striker Lennox Bacela, whose arrival has galvanised the Buccaneers’ quest for a second star, has backed the club’s players to bounce back after their 2-1 defeat to Zamalek a couple of weeks ago.
“It’s very important to get a positive result this weekend. We don’t want to come back (from Brazzaville) and play a massive game having to win at all costs. We also have another massive game after that (against Kaizer Chiefs in the MTN8), so we don’t want to put ourselves under pressure by not winning this season. Everyone knows that we have to get a good result against Leopards. We want to have room for mistakes against Al Ahly. We don’t want to go into the last game having to play for our lives. But we believe we can bounce back after the Zamalek defeat.”
This is Leopards’ last home match – they travel to Egypt in their last group match to face Zamalek. A win for them on Saturday would give them a fighting chance ahead of their clash with the Egyptian giants.
Going all out for a win could come at a costly price, but it’s a risk the Buccaneers are willing to take to ensure they enhance their chances of making the last four. “As much as we need win, they also need to win because their next game is away to Zamalek,” says Bacela. “They would not want to go to Egypt under a lot of pressure to win. They will attack us from the start, which will make things open for us to also attack. I believe with the players we have, we can come out top. We need to make sure we take our chances. We were fortunate to watch them play against Zamalek.”
It was smooth sailing for Pirates in the competition after their convincing victories over Al Ahly and Zamalek, but then the 2-1 defeat to the latter at the El Gouna Stadium in Egypt a couple of weeks ago was a wake-up call for them, says the former Bloemfontein Celtic striker.
“Losing that match keeps us on our toes, because it showed we still have to work harder to achieve our goals. We thought we were the better team, so to go down was disappointing. Now we have to respond against Leopards.”
AC Leopards have done quite well in the group stages and that they held the Buccaneers to a goalless draw at Orlando back in August showed that they are no pushovers.
Pirates will have to hustle a win without some of their key players for the clash. Andile Jali and Thabo Matlaba are suspended and Thandani Ntshumayelo and Collins Mbesuma are still out injured.
Good news for Pirates, though, is that defender Siyabonga Sangweni could make a return to the line-up. He’s been out with a knee injury since February.