Cape Town — Libyan champions Al-Ittihad defeated South Africa's Orlando Pirates 3-2 in a CAF Confederation Cup clash at the Martyrs of February Stadium, in Benghazi, on Sunday evening.
Al-Ittihad hardly looked like a team starved of recent competition after they were granted a month-long break from domestic football to prepare for their Confederation Cup campaign. At end of last year, they exited the Champions League after successive defeats and were demoted to the second-tier continental competition.
The first half produced four goals after the teams took advantage of goalscoring opportunities although Al-Ittihad would have been disappointed that did not capitalise to a greater degree. As a result, they had to settle for a 2-all stalemate at halftime.
Al-Ittihad striker Muad Eisay was fouled in the 14th minute foul by Pirates skipper Happy Jele. This presented the hosts with a free-kick in a fairly central position some 10 metres outside Pirates' penalty area. Defender Sanad Al-Warfali struck the free-kick low through the defensive wall and well wide of Pirates goalkeeper Siyabonga Mpontshane (1-0).
Former SA Under-20 star Bandile Shandu was next on the scoresheet in the 26th minute. After Pirates had launched an attack down the right channel, Shandu stalked into the attack from the side's rearguard. He ran on to a ball played inside from wide out, and struck a low drive from 30 metres out the opposition goalmouth to snatch the equaliser.
Almost straight from the restart, Al-Ittihad regained the lead with a sweet strike from a metre outside the penalty area. Eisay scored after he rounded off an attack straight down the middle of the park.
As play wound towards the end of the first half, the Libyans had further scoring chances which went abegging. However, a minute into first-half injury time, Al-Ittihad paid the price for sloppy fielding and Shandu was handily placed to punt a stray ball across the goal line for his second goal in the match (2-2).
The start to second-half play was fairly quiet and restricted largely to the central areas of the field. However, midfielder Omar Al Khouja, who made his international debut for Libya last year, scored with a potshot from about 20m inside the Pirates half. With Mpontshane well off his line by about 10 metres, the ball looked like it might travel over the crossbar, but then it dipped and carried over his fingertips of the rudely-surprised goalkeeper (2-1).
Midway through the second half, Pirates brought on Malawian international Gabadinho Mhango and Kabelo Dlamini and soon after their introduction, Pirates picked up momentum. Mhango came close with a long-range effort soon after joining the fray.
Pirates dominated possession with a 67% advantage, but in the end, they suffered defeat, their first in this season's Confed Cup competition.