“I think with the team that we have, we are strong enough to manage to come out. For us, it’s important to go to the next round in this competition,” says Pirates captain Happy Jele. Photo: BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – Orlando Pirates’ mental endurance from their African safari will come in handy when they travel to Venda to face Black Leopards in the last-32 of the Nedbank Cup at Thohoyandou Stadium this evening (6pm kickoff).

Having already played three games in Africa this season in scorching heat, the Buccaneers must be used to matches of high temperatures – on and off the field of play.

That’s something that will come in handy as Venda’s temperatures are currently at their peak.

Furthermore, although Pirates have a huge following in Africa, they have come up short in terms of having that 12th man when they are playing away – except when they recently visited neighbours FC Platinum in Zimbabwe.

Thohoyandou has an incredible history of hosting their supporters to the rafters on every match-day, and the mere fact that they’ll be hosting Pirates is making the occasion even bigger as the tickets were already sold out by noon on Friday.

“I think we are mentally ready in terms of the conditions because it’s very hot, but we’ve been travelling in Africa, and we came out of conditions where people had written us off,” said Pirates captain Happy Jele.

“I think with the team that we have we are strong enough to manage to come out. For us, it’s important to go to the next round in this competition.”

Doing well in this competition might be the one of the few ways the Bucs can ensure that they bag a piece of silverware, as the Caf Champions League and Absa Premiership are a bit far-fetched for now.

Bucs are no strangers to South Africa’s premier club knockout competition, having won it as their latest trophy in 2013/14 season, which subsequently sealed another run in African football.

A lot has changed since then, though. Jele is now the longest serving player at the club with a 13-year landmark. But he’s ageing like fine wine, as he’s played almost every match so far this season.

“He’s an extended hand of coaching on the field of play,” Pirates coach Micho Sredojevic said about Jele.

“After all these years, his outfield life is in preparation for the in-field life. Being fully aware of that, we have him as not only the captain, but as a leader, coach and a person that keeps an identity of being present throughout.

“Fact is, he takes care of himself with proper resting and nutrition.”

So far, Jele’s leadership qualities this season have prevailed. After trailing Baroka FC 1-0 in their last league encounter at home on Wednesday, the skipper had to urge his troops to keep their heads high as they went in search of an equaliser, and a possible winner.

Indeed his companions conformed to his instructions as Vincent Pule’s header ensured that they at least settled for a point with seven minutes to go. Mind you, the point came during Bakgaga’s “time-wasting” antics.

“We wanted three points because it was a home game, and when they scored the quality free kick, there was no way that we were going to give up,” Jele said.

“I had to push the guys to keep going. We then managed to create some chances, and we got a goal in the last 10 minutes.”

@Mihlalibaleka


Saturday Star

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