Pirates last chance at redemption

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Having lost in three finals already this season, the Nedbank Cup present a golden chance for Orlando Pirates to redeem themselves. Photo by: Lefty Shivambu

Johannesburg – Orlando Pirates skipper Lucky Lekgwathi admits the Buccaneers are desperate to clinch a trophy this season and Saturday's Nedbank Cup final marks one last attempt at silverware this season.

The Buccaneers have tried but failed in three previous cup finals, including the Caf Champions League, where Pirates had to settle for second best against Egyptian side Al-Ahly in November.

Since then, a 2-1 defeat to Platinum Stars in the final of the Telkom Knockout in December completed a hat-trick of cup disappointments, having already lost to Stars the season's first cup tournament Ä the MTN8.

“We want to finish the season on a high. Being in three finals is good motivation for us,” Lekgwathi said ahead of Saturday's meeting with Wits in Durban.

“It's our last hope and 1/8winning 3/8 will build our confidence going forward to next season.”

With their participation in the final game of the season secured after the league came to an end last weekend, Lekgwathi’s troops will have played every game available to a team in a scheduled season, due to their progress to every cup final this campaign.

The 37-year-old veteran, who has spent 12 years at Pirates, will look to rally his troops as they attempt to replicate their result against Wits in 2011, when the Soweto giants downed the Clever Boys 3-1 in the Telkom Knockout final, at the same venue as Saturday's sold-out Moses Mabhida Stadium.

Lekgwathi, however, warned that Wits posed a formidable threat following a success first season under new boss Gavin Hunt, who steered the Students to a third-place finish, an all-time best finish to a league campaign.

“Wits are a tough side, personally for me, they have been the best team in the Premiership. They have good players, most of them are youngsters and they're full of running,” Lekgwathi said.

“It'll be entertaining and I think it'll be an open game.”

Wits, meanwhile, are bidding for their first piece of silverware since 2010, when the Johannesburg hoisted the Nedbank Cup trophy, easing past a hapless AmaZulu in the final at Soccer City, a month before the kickoff of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

In Hunt, Wits have a coach who has appeared in the final of the lucrative cup competition for a record third time in succession, having taken former club SuperSport United to the final, lifting the trophy once before losing out to champions Kaizer Chiefs last season.

“Pirates have a lot of experience, playing in cup finals and winning leagues, while we have a squad that hasn’t won anything but that can produce the goods in a once-off match,” Hunt said in his assessment of Saturday's conclusion to the country's final cup tournament of the season, played a week after the wrap-up of the Premiership campaign.

“We are huge underdogs... they are much bigger favourites playing in the final, they have played three this season.

“I don’t think there will be any psychological effect on this final. It's the last throw of the dice, they have been unfortunate in the other three.”

Despite Hunt's repeated insistence that the Buccaneers head into the game the more fancied side, Pirates coach Vladimir Vermezovic, who is appearing in his first Nedbank Cup final, insists the same can be said for Wits, refusing to fall for what he calls Hunt's “side-games before the big match”.

“Always before big games, there are mind-games and I don't think he (Hunt) said that in front of his players,” Vermezovic said.

“Maybe in front of the media... it's correct. I can say the same. Pirates are favourites.

“I don't think that Mr Hunt is going to give up so easily.”

The pair have met twice this season, both in the Premiership, with Pirates earning a hard-fought 2-1 win at home, before playing to a goalless draw at Bidvest Stadium shortly before the end of the season. – Sapa


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