Pirates’ win in Egypt put SA on the map
JOHANNESBURG – The man responsible for removing Al Ahly’s aura of invincibility against South African teams describes that moment in 2013 as surreal.
Roger de Sa, coach of Orlando Pirates when they beat Al Ahly 3-0 in El Gouna in the 2013 Caf Champions League group stage, remembers that game vividly.
“It was a surreal feeling when we won the match even though deep down we knew that we were capable of beating them,” De Sa said.
“We had after all beaten TP Mazembe who are tougher than Al Ahly. When you play against Al Ahly you know that the officiating will be good and they treat visiting teams well, unlike Mazembe.
“To beat them in Egypt was massive. They were more shocked than us. I actually felt bad for their coach during the post-match press conference because the press there was hard on him and they didn’t take the loss well.
“We took the game to them and used our speed to unsettle them because we had a lot of pace in our team.”
The 3-0 drubbing Pirates handed Al Ahly remains the Egyptian team’s biggest home defeat in the Champions League. Before that match, just the name Al Ahly sent shivers down the spine of SA teams.
The Egyptian club had tormented SA teams before that, and continued to do so after the defeat.
Al Ahly have after all beaten Kaizer Chiefs in the 2002 Caf Super Cup, beaten Mamelodi Sundowns in the 2001 Champions League final and Pirates in the 2013 Champions League final. That’s three continental titles SA was denied by the Red Devils. There are also a handful of SA teams that were knocked out in the preliminary rounds by Caf’s Club of the Century.
The situation has changed drastically though. SA teams respect Al Ahly, but they don’t fear them. That was evident in the 5-0 drubbing Sundowns inflicted on Al Ahly last season in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals.
What Pirates’ win in 2013 did was to show SA teams that the mighty Al Ahly are beatable, removing the mental block that came when they had to face the Egyptians.
It’s because of that win that Sundowns are confident that they can overturn the 2-0 defeat they suffered against Al Ahly in the first leg of the quarter-finals when these two sides meet in the second leg at Lucas Moripe Stadium on Saturday.
“Even though we didn’t win the tournament that year, losing to Al Ahly of all teams, that run did a lot for South African football,” De Sa said. “It put the country on the map and people started to take us seriously. In that run to the final we beat Mazembe, Al Ahly, Zamalek and Esperance - four of the best teams on the continent. We sent a strong message. What makes it even more memorable was the squad we did it with. We didn’t spend a lot of money in assembling it.”
Three years later, Sundowns were crowned African champions and SA had their second Champions League crown.
The Brazilians took over the baton from Pirates as the flag-bearers in continental football. Sundowns’ 5-0 win over Al Ahly is fresh in the memory of many Egyptians, but their fans haven’t forgotten the defeat they suffered against Pirates.
“I was in a restaurant in Italy and was served by an Egyptian waiter,” De Sa said. “The waiter pulled out his phone and showed me the video of Aboutrika scoring the free-kick in the final. He said he remembered that I was the coach of Orlando then, and went on to talk about that match.”