The Buccaneers have been a different machine in the Champions League compared to their performance in the Absa Premiership.
The Sea Robbers have four clean sheets in 18 matches in the league, but in the Champions League they have kept clean sheets in their last four matches. They will look to keep that run going against the Tunisians, who are a bigger threat than Horoya, FC Platinum and African Stars combined.
Pirates’ defence in the Champions League is centred on captain Happy Jele and Alfred Ndengane’s partnership, with Asavela Mbekile, a Champions League winner with Mamelodi Sundowns, bringing experience.
Jele and Ndengane look like they have been playing together for years. Their physical presence and aerial strength will come in handy against an Esperance side that’s deadly on set-pieces.
“He is very experienced,” Jele said about Ndengane. “He has been in this game for a long time. He understands each and everyone in the team.
“The partnership has been great, even with the other guys I have played with. At Pirates, there’s a lot of players. If I am out, there’s going to be a good partnership with either Ndengane, (Marshall) Munetsi, (Justice) Chabalala or (Ntsikelelo) Nyauza because we work together.
“If someone makes a mistake, we keep on pushing each other just like we do when someone does well. As defenders, we complement each other a lot, that’s the most important thing.”
Coach Milutin Sredojevic will not worry about the club’s attack, which is the main reason the Buccaneers are chasing the league and are in the group stage of the Champions League.
The Soweto giants’ attack has covered for their inconsistent defence by outscoring opponents. Their speed and skills will trouble Esperance. North African teams struggle to deal with southern African players’ movements. They counter that with their intelligence, strategically breaking down play to frustrate them, and experience as the kings of African football.
Pirates are prepared well for that after Baroka FC’s Elvis Chipezeze put on a masterful display on the art of time-wasting. Pirates’ players kept their cool, focused on the match and eventually scored an equaliser. Esperance will do that better than Bakgaga, and they can score more than one goal.
A point away against the 1995 African champions will not be such a bad result for the Tunisians, who host Pirates in Rades in March without any fans as they were ordered to play two games behind closed doors.
“We know that in the Champions League we will get teams who defend in numbers, if they don’t succeed with wasting time and delaying the match,” Sredojevic said after the Baroka match.
“It’s part of the game, we have no right to look to be excuse-makers. There are critical things that we have to look at ourselves, that no matter if a triple-decker or double-decker bus is parked, we need to find a way to breach it.
“This is a formula that all attack-minded teams like us need to find. This is the direction that we’re working towards, and with the players we have we shall improve in the matches ahead of us.”