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Pirates' Champions League quest under threat from Royal AM's striker Victor Letsoalo

Goodman Mosele of Orlando Pirates challenged by Zukile Kewuti of Maritzburg United during the DStv Premiership 2021/22 match at the Orlando Stadium, Soweto on the 24 May 2022. Picture: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Goodman Mosele of Orlando Pirates challenged by Zukile Kewuti of Maritzburg United during the DStv Premiership 2021/22 match at the Orlando Stadium, Soweto on the 24 May 2022. Picture: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Published May 26, 2022


Cape Town - After Orlando Pirates battered Maritzburg 4-1 a few days ago, the team is within sniffing distance of the giddy Caf Champions League landscape.

On Friday night, the sixth-placed Pirates will look to step a closer to that ideal when they visit Chatsworth Stadium for a showdown with fifth-placed Royal AM, the DStv Premiership upstarts who have on occasions occupied the No 2 slot on the log behind champions Mamelodi Sundowns this season (start 7.30pm).

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Royal AM go into the match on the back of a 3-2 defeat against Sundowns, but they could have reversed the result had their ace goalmouth predator Victor Letsoalo converted just more than one of his goal attempts. He was a thorn in the flesh of the shaky Sundowns defence, and two (missed) attempts were fractionally wide from acute angles.

Letsoalo, a Kaizer Chiefs target with a R20m price tag on his back, has been a stand-out performer for Royal AM this season, and has 15 goals in the Premiership. He is second on the leading goalscorers list behind Sundowns' Peter Shalulile, who has 23 goals.

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He is an integral part of Royal AM, who like Pirates also harbour Champions League dreams. Their defeat at the hands of Sundowns was a setback, but for their coach John Maduka, the retired Malawian footballer, the dream is still very much alive.

"We still have a chance, this is what God provided for us, this game (against Sundowns), of course, we wanted to win,” said Maduka.

"In as much as we wanted to win, it didn't happen, and now we have another chance.

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"We must make sure we grab this chance with both hands. We are going to play against another very difficult team.

"It is not going to be easy but it is very important for us to play throughout the match (rather than just play near the end of a match)."

Apart from the Letsoalo threat, the Pirates' rear-guard will also do well to keep an eye on central striker Mxolisi Machupu, who has also been prolific in the striking zone with eight Premiership goals. The Machupu - Letsoalo pairing has produced 23 of Royal AM's 29 Premiership goals this season.

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A win for Royal AM will propel them into second place, and Cape Town City will be forced into third place and out of the Champions League zone. A draw will ensure Royal AM of a Confederation Cup berth. Defeat will mean they remain in fifth place and no place in Africa next season.

Pirates' chances of winning have been glowing red-hot since the remarkable return to form of talisman midfielder Thembinkosi Lorch who has been named as a striker in the Bafana Bafana squad for the upcoming Afcon matches in June.

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Lorch feels the Maritzburg conquest will be a morale-booster for Pirates ahead of the Royal Am coach.

“The focus now is on KwaZulu-Natal's Royal AM. It is going to be a difficult game," said Lorch.

"It was important to boost our confidence because we still have a chance to qualify for the CAF Champions League. So, we needed this win.

“What I would like to say to our fans is that they should continue supporting us and we will always keep on pushing.

“The fans' support is very important, like against Maritzburg, they pushed us even though it was difficult for us, but we just kept on pushing.”

A win for Pirates will increase their tally from 43 to 46 points, but they will remain in sixth place. However, it will give the team one final chance of making the Champions League zone if they win their final game against SuperSport United and end with 49 points.

Cape Town City already have 49 points, but by that time, Pirates will very likely have a better goal difference and stake a claim for the second place behind Sundowns.