JOHANNESBURG – Orlando Pirates announced their return to the Caf Champions League in style with a 3-0 thumping of Horoya on Friday night.
This victory put them at the summit of Group B after two matches, ahead of reigning champions Esperance.
The Buccaneers came into the match needing to better Esperance’s 2-0 win over FC Platinum earlier in the day if they were to lead Group B.
They did just that with a win that’ll remind the big boys that Pirates are back after a six-year absence.
The Ghost last reached this stage of the Champions League in 2013, when they went all the way to the final which they lost to Al Ahly.
While they might not look like finalists just yet, they overcame a big hurdle at the Orlando Stadium on Friday night.
The Guinean side came into the match unbeaten against South African opposition in continental football.
They defended in numbers and didn’t venture much forward when the scores were level, and didn’t hide the fact that they came here for a draw.
In their last two trips in the country, to face Mamelodi Sundowns in the Champions League last year and SuperSport in the 2017 Caf Confederation Cup, they returned to Conakry with a point from South Africa’s capital.
Soweto proved to be less hospitable this time around, though.
Buccaneers coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic challenged his team to be the first South African side to beat Horoya.
The Serbian coach jumped for joy when Thembinkosi Lorch put Pirates ahead just before halftime.
Lorch weaved his way in between a crowded defence before firing his shot into the roof of the net.
It was a deserved lead as Pirates had made their intentions clear from the onset. They attacked from the first whistle until the last.
Even though Pirates attacked in numbers, they were too fancy. They lacked aggression and didn’t bully their opponents off the field.
Sredojevic opted for a starting XI with more artists than bulldozers. Those artists passed the ball around nicely, but they didn’t go for the jugular against a team that won’t give you many clear-cut chances, which means you must make the most of the few opportunities you get.
Even when Horoya lost one of their first choice centre-backs due to injury, Pirates still didn’t put consistent pressure on the visitors’ defence.
That artistry paid off, though. Justin Shonga used his brains rather than power to complete his brace by scoring in the 73rd and 75th minutes.
Pirates showed street smarts in how they broke Horoya’s momentum, as they slowed down the game and Jackson Mabokgwane got ‘injured’.
The Buccaneers held their own against a more experienced team in the Champions League.
Pirates had a few players who have featured in the group stage of the continent’s premier club competition, while Horoya lost in the quarter-finals last year and were in the group stage of the 2017 Confederation Cup.
Pirates’ technical team – from Sredojevic, who has criss-crossed the continent with clubs and national teams, to his assistant Rhulani Mokwena, who won the Champions League with Mamelodi Sundowns – made up for that lack of experience on the field.