Orlando Pirates switch focus to cup as gap to Mamelodi Sundowns ‘too big’

Orlando Pirates’ coach Jose Riveiro during a press conference

Orlando Pirates’ coach Jose Riveiro, with ‘too big’ a gap on the DStv Premiership log between his charges and Mamelodi Sundowns, the focus has shifted to seeking cup silverware.Picture: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Feb 19, 2024


Orlando Pirates’ coach Jose Riveiro has lifted the lid on their aspirations for the rest of the season after blowing hot and cold in the first half of the campaign.

Pirates started the season on a high as they defended the MTN8 crown, painting a picture of a team that would compete for all the honours up for grabs. But that proved to be a false dawn as Pirates crashed out of the Carling Knockout and blew hot and cold in the DStv Premiership in the first half of the season.

That proved to be costly as Mamelodi Sundowns tightened their grip at the top of the table, leading Pirates by 13 points with two games in hand before the break. Pirates had an opportunity to trim the gap when the league season resumed over the weekend, when they visited the champions in Pretoria.

But they could only salvage a point from the match as their defender Tapelo Xoki equalised from the penalty spot to cancel out Marcelo Allende’s second-half opener.

Massive Sundowns lead

So, with Pirates all but out of the title race, as it would take something drastic for Sundowns to relinquish their lead, Riveiro has revealed their mandate going forward.

“The distance between us and the team at the top of the table is big,” he said.

“We need to continue and keep trying, competing in every league game. We want to go back to continental football without any discussion, and we know there’s only one way to do it (which is to finish in the top three).

“There’s an extra motivation, which is one more cup to play for. We are defending the trophy, like we used to say, and it’s a competition that I really like.”

The trophy that Riveiro is talking about is the Nedbank Cup, which also guarantees its winners a spot in the continent’s second-tier competition, the Confederation Cup.

The cup will get under way this week, but the PSL is yet to confirm Pirates’ opponents, owing to maladministration in the Mpumalanga Safa region. But while the PSL said yesterday that it is hoping the matter will be resolved today, Riveiro says they’ll prepare to the best of their abilities.

“I would like to know who we are going to play next week but we’ll prepare ourselves. We are, as usual, going to take the game very seriously,” he said.

“Last year, we experienced playing Dondol Stars, FC All Stars or Venda Academy. And that was not an easy path for us. It’s difficult playing against unknown teams.”

Reason to believe

Though Pirates’ Nedbank Cup defence won’t be easy, they have reason to believe that they can have a successful campaign in the end.

Striker Evidence Makgopa had an impressive Africa Cup of Nations campaign, scoring one goal and registering one assist as Bafana Bafana finished third in the event. His importance was significant for Pirates against Sundowns as he started the match despite arriving home just three days earlier.

Riveiro says he’s developed since the Afcon.

“No (he’s not the same player). I am not saying this because I have noticed any difference already, but I am sure he’s not the same player,” he said.

“He was in a top continental tournament, competing with many players who are playing in top sides in Europe, and for seven weeks he was camping with his mates.

“So, all those experiences are going to play a big role in Evidence’s career. So, I’m glad that he finally got the opportunity that we were all looking for.

“This was what we expected from him the moment he signed for Pirates a season ago. (It was a pity) for many reasons it wasn’t possible, not that he didn’t try.”