JOHANNESBURG – Orlando Pirates now have all their eggs in one basket after their elimination in the CAF Champions League, which means that one mistake will see them go five years without a trophy.
The Buccaneers’ 2-1 loss to Horoya in Conakry on Saturday ended their dreams of conquering the continent as they did in 1995. But if Pirates are honest with themselves, they will admit that their Champions League dreams were killed by their draws with Esperance and Platinum Stars at home.
The golden rule in the Champions League is to win all your home games and win one match or at least one draw away to advance to the knockout stage.
Pirates didn’t do that, and now all their focus is on the Absa Premiership where they trail Mamelodi Sundowns by three points with seven matches to go. Failure to win the league will result in this being a disastrous season under coach Milutin Sredojevic, after losing the final of the Telkom Knockout.
With the league the only thing that Pirates are fighting for, Luvuyo Memela was frank about the club’s ambition.
“Obviously we want to win the league because last season we finished No2,” Memela said. “What’s better than that? It’s No1. We can’t be No2 again. I understood when we finished No2 last season.
We were getting used to the coaches, now we understand everything. We know what they want, half spaces, breaking the line, finding the No10s and all that. I think that it’s going to push us as players (saying that we want to win the league) because we like to say that as players we’re taking it one game at a time. But if we’re being honest, we want to win the league and we must push for it.”
The Buccaneers have to push first-placed Sundowns for the premiership. The Brazilians are still in the Champions League having secured qualification for the group stage with a game to spare. What should give Bucs confidence is that a number of their match winners are fully fit, including Memela who spent some time nursing his knee injury. The club’s medical and technical teams took their time nursing him back to full fitness.
“I think that it was the right approach,” Memela said. “I came back and got injured again, I twisted my knee. I think that the team took the right decision to not to rush me even though as a player you want to play and want to be on the pitch as soon as possible.
I think that the team did a fantastic job in telling me not to rush. You must be fit and know that your leg is strong, all that you have to do is get back the trust in your leg and then you can start playing again.”
Any slip-up in this league race has been punished, with the No1 spot swapped around by Wits, Pirates and Sundowns. The Brazilians’ clash with Pirates on April 27 could be key in deciding whether the trophy stays in Pretoria or goes to Joburg, with the Clever Boys still in the mix despite their recent poor form.
“We’ll see,” Memela said in response to whether Sundowns’ clash with Pirates will decide the league.