Johannesburg – Roger De Sa believes Orlando Pirates can continue to thrive in the role of the underdogs as they take on Esperance in the first leg of the semi-finals of the African Champions League in Orlando on Saturday night.
Pirates slipped up as heavy domestic favourites last weekend when they went down to Platinum Stars on penalties in the final of the MTN8. De Sa, however, does not believe the side’s morale has been affected this week as they prepare to continue their “great journey” in search of a second continental star.
“It is not nice to lose in a final,” said De Sa.
“But when you lose badly or are totally outplayed, you feel a lot worse. We lost on penalties and should have won, there were a lot of good things. We have to carry on believing.”
The Buccaneers, one feels, can certainly benefit from the fact that on the continent, they resemble more of a plucky David than a dominant Goliath.
Esperance, for one, have reached the final of the Champions League for the past three years, and will expect to secure a way to a fourth over two legs against Pirates.
The Tunisians were certainly dominant in the group stages, picking up 15 points out of a possible 18 to top Group B, while Pirates sneaked through as Group A runners-up.
“We have been underdogs since the first game we played in this competition, and that is fine, we are good with that, no problem,” said De Sa yesterday.
“The whole club are excited and we are looking forward to it. No one gave us a chance to reach this stage, and here we are.”
If De Sa’s “first game” assertion appears a slight exaggeration, from the time the Buccaneers somehow overcame TP Mazembe in the final qualifying round of this year’s Champions League, they have certainly been upsetting the odds.
Pirates managed to beat both Egyptian giants Al Ahly and Zamalek during the group stages, and De Sa does see similarities in Esperance’s style of play.
“We have quite a lot of their footage, and they are a very good team, they are well structured and disciplined, a lot like Al Ahly and Zamalek. In some areas they are better … they have a bit more flair,” he said.
What would seem essential is that Pirates get a good result in Orlando to take to Tunis, where Esperance look fairly impregnable. In their last three Champions League campaigns, all of which saw them reach the final, the only home game the Blood and Gold lost was in the 2012 final, where they were beaten by Al Ahly in Rades.
“Not to concede at home is a key factor. We want to go away with something to play for. We don’t want to be losing 2-0 or 3-0, but playing the Egyptian and Tunisian teams (away), you have a chance. It is not all doom and gloom. ”
Esperance’s giant Cameroonian striker Yannick N’Djeng believes the result in Al Ahly shows Pirates’ credentials. “It will be a tough game, they (Pirates) are a very good team and that they are at this level of competition is not a coincidence,” he told starafrica.com.
“They beat the great Ahly, it proves that they are a team to be taken seriously. They play at home, so it’s up to us to arrange to return with a good result.”