Johannesburg - Goalkeeper Richard Ofori was the hero as Orlando Pirates progressed to the semi-finals of the CAF Confederation Cup after a 4-3 penalty shootout win over Simba in their quarter-final at Orlando Stadium.
Pirates headed into the second leg 0-1 behind after the first match in Tanzania, and managed to to get the vital goal in the second half of the second leg, which sent the match to penalties.
Ofori made a wonderful stop in the shootout and then converted a penalty of his own to help Pirates reach the last four of the competition after after falling at this hurdle last season.
After Mamelodi Sundowns’ 3-2 loss on aggregate to Petro de Luanda in a CAF Champions League quarter-final on Saturday night, Pirates were the country’s only hope as far as reaching the semi-finals of a continental football competition.
There wasn’t a great crowd for a game of this magnitude for Pirates, though the few that graced this occasion made their voices heard from the first whistle to the last. The supporters of the two teams combined to produce a cacophony of noise that neutrals enjoyed.
With every attack and or robust tackle, the supporters reacted. They were so loud in the first 10 minutes that you could hear them in your guts, thanks to the zinc roofing.
The Bucs’ faithful were cheering their team’s bright start, as Pirates looked to score with every foray into Simba’s final third, while the visitors were happy with every miss and save.
Terrence Dzvukamanja was the first Pirates player to test the waters from close-range, forcing a save out of Simba goalkeeper Aishi Manula.
The resultant rebound fell in the path of Kwame Peprah, who blasted his effort into the empty stands. Pirates had their second shot on target soon afterwards as Deon Hotto chipped over the wall with a well struck set-piece that forced another diving save from out of Manula.
Bandile Shandu, who’s been Pirates’ best player in the competition, also had a chance to score after being set-up by Peprah, but he put his shot over the crossbar.
With the progression of the game, Pirates’ tempo dropped as the Tanzanians outfield players were behind the ball. Pirates were forced to start building from the midfield, with Abel Mabaso and Fortune Makaringe looking to expose Simba’s pocket of spaces.
But Simba’s defence stood their ground as Pirates exerted pressure without any penetration. However, that didn’t discourage the resilient Pirates team.
They attacked and defended as a unit. So much so that Thembinkosi Lorch took a free-kick on the stroke of halftime before tracking back to his final third to clear a dangerous cross.
Pirates unleashed their “dancing sensation” Linda Mntambo on Simba in the second half for Mabaso, hoping that his moves in the midfield would cut Simba’s wall open. His first real contribution sailed to the stands, although the Bucs faithful appreciated the effort.
Having continued with their dominance in the second, fortune favoured Pirates as Simba were reduced down to 10 men after Crispin Mugalu received a straight red card after the referee consulted with the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system. He had stamped on Olisa Ndah.
Pirates duly capitalised on the advantage as Innocent Maela whipped in a curling cross that found an unmarked Peprah whose header rattled the roof of the net.
That goal deflated Simba’s supporters who varnished to deafening silence, but ‘the Ghost’ were happy to take full control as they found the voices.
Pirates continued to throw more numbers forward, including introducing the out-of-favour yet potent Gabadinho Mhango, but were unfortunate twice after Mntambo hit the upright, while Hotto’s glancing header sailed wide of the target.
Ofori then stepped up bravely in the shootout to do his bit in goal and from the penalty spot.