JOHANNESBURG – With Orlando Pirates currently having all their eggs in one basket - to challenge for the Absa Premiership honours - gaining three points against the defending champions and league’s pacesetters, Mamelodi Sundowns, tonight at Orlando Stadium would prove invaluable.
Pirates, who are third on the log standings with 40 points, are three adrift of their visitors, the Brazilians, with only seven matches before the curtain comes down on the league. Both teams might be coming back from the international break, but they’ve got scores to settle considering that they both lost their last matches in their CAF Champions League campaigns.
The Sea Robbers bowed out of the competition in the group stage following a 2-1 loss to Horoya Athletic Club in Conakry, Guinea. On the other hand, despite the Brazilians’ 1-0 loss to Wydad Casablanca in Morocco, they progressed to the quarter-finals of the competition - finishing second in Group A.
Pirates midfielder Luvuyo Memela, still hurt after their defeat to Horoya, believes that they have to bring a Champions League’s element into their battle with Sundowns.
“It’s not easy for us going to Conakry and not coming back with the result. It won’t be an easy match against Sundowns but we must take the match as if we are playing in the Champions League. Even though we are out and they have qualified for the quarter-finals,” Memela said.
In the first half of this season the clubs played out a goalless draw at Loftus Versfeld.
Their previous meeting at Down's home ground resulted in a 3-1 win for Bucs. In that victory, Memela was in scoring form for the Sea Robbers, scoring the third goal to inspire a famous win that was pivotal in his team’s second-place finish on the log last season.
Moreover, when he didn't win the Man of the Match award it shocked Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane, who questioned the award’s recipient, Jackson Mabokgwane, and praised the former for a standout performance.
Memela missed the draw due to an injury. The big question that now he’s fully fit and has proven to be a man for the big game, can he inspire his team to victory, and possibly a league title?
“We just need to focus (collectively) as players. We must play our normal game and not try to do too much,” Memela responded. “I think we are ready as a team. We needed the friendly game (against Jomo Cosmos that was played last Wednesday) because every individual can see where they are at in terms of their fitness level.
Not that I think it’s a problem at this time of the season because a lot of guys have played a lot of games. Even though I am coming back from an injury, but I am confident that I am fully fit.”
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The last time the Brazilians’ made the short trip from Chlookop to Soweto, it was nothing short of special. The main memory for supporters of Sundowns is probably the halfway line shot by captain Hlompo Kekana that left goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands floundering as they triumphed in a 3-1 win.
However, Pirates captain Happy Jele is banking on three points tonight to undo the misfortunes of the past.
“It’s been a while since we’ve beat them at Orlando. They are a good team but on Monday, we want to take three points,”Jele said.@Mihlalibaleka