Augusto Palacios

Johannesburg – Orlando Pirates coach Augusto Palacios said player fitness was not a concern ahead of their season opening Top8 quarter-final tie against Bloemfontein Celtic on Friday.

The Buccaneers, who achieved a treble last season, are the defending champions of the competition, whose sponsorship deal is still being negotiated by the Premier Soccer League.

Their final preparation match was the Carling Black Label Cup win over arch-rivals Kaizer Chiefs, where they came from behind to win 5-4 after penalties at FNB Stadium on Saturday.

“The fitness of players is was not my concern in this game (against Chiefs),” said Palacios after their weekend triumph.

“It was fantastic to introduce new players in this game, and is a good initiative for the season.

“We took this game and the tournament in Mpumalanga last week, seriously in preparation for the Top8 against Celtic.

“When I started pre-season, I told player that the treble is in the past, and that this season needs to be completed.”

The winning mentality in the Pirates camp was evident at the weekend when striker Benni McCarthy equalised in injury time to send the match to the penalty lottery.

Chiefs held an early lead through Abia Nale before going on to miss three spot kicks in the shoot out in front of a record 92, 702 attendance.

“Looking at the game, I think Chiefs took control, we were not attacking in numbers and Chiefs did,” Palacios said.

“We had to put the house in order (at half-time.”

Chiefs coach Stuart Baxter praised some of his fringe players, who got an opportunity to stake a claim for a regular berth ahead of the campaign.

“The starting eleven (voted for by fans) probably gave some players an opportunity,” Baxter said.

“Abia (Nale) came on, and I thought he did well, and (Tefu) Mashamaite played instead of (Eric) Mathoho.

“They've staked a claim, and raised their shares,although I'm not saying they blew anyone away.”

Chiefs have a crunch Top8 quarter-final start against Mamelodi Sundowns at Loftus Versveld on Sunday. – Sapa