Bucs still have one hand on trophy

2013-11-02 23:29

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All not lost for Pirates after clinching late equaliser against Al Ahly.

Orlando Pirates will need more than what they put up against Al Ahly going into the return leg of this CAF Champions League final on Sunday.

Coach Roger de Sa’s men can draw inspiration from the December 1995 2-2 draw against Asec Mimosas during the same stage of the competition when they pulled an against-all-odds moment to clinch the continental title 18 years ago.

Defender Thabo Matlaba’s last gasp equaliser has given Pirates a sense of hope ahead of their return clash against the seven-time champions in Cairo in a week’s time.

Mohamed Aboutrika’s superb free kick 14 minutes into the game still carry weight as it means Al Ahly have an away goal advantage.

The Buccaneers were the masters of their undoing last night.

And that they have gone six matches without a win in this competition since their 4-1 win over Zamalek in the group stages here on August 17, shows just how tough this competition is.

But even when the pendulum swung their way against Al Ahly, De Sa’s troops ran out of ideas against a side whose positional discipline mattered the most on the night.

Pirates just couldn’t unlock Al Ahly who constantly threw no less than 10 players behind the ball when defending, a tactic that forced the hosts to resort to firing from long range.

Oupa Manyisa, Thabo Matlaba and Rooi Mahamutsa had their attempts in the opening half triggered way out of Al Ahly’s goal area.

It was a different Al Ahly to the one that Pirates smacked 3-0 during the group stages and held off to a goalless draw in Soweto last month.

Bucs principal striker Lennox Bacela played most of the time with his back to goal.

The striker went into this game with six goals in the last seven matches in all competitions but fell short in his battle against experienced Egyptian international defender Wael Gomaa.

It has been a long road for the Buccaneers ­to throw it away at the final hurdle.

De Sa’s team last night clocked their 18th official game in all competitions so far this year, with 14 of those registered in this competition.

From the tiny islands of Comoros, via Zambia, DR Congo, Congo-Brazzaville right up to the coastline of the Red Sea in Egypt, the long awaited occasion to bring Africa’s prestigious club title still seems a reality.

However, history is on their side as they did it away from home in 1995 through that historic Jerry Sikhosana.

Drums roll at Soweto final

It has been 13 long years since South Africa last hosted a CAF Champions League final.

A common denominator was Al Ahly, who seemed at home in the cavernous Loftus Versfeld as they escaped with a 1-1 draw against Mamelodi Sundowns.

The National Stadium in Cairo was not as hospitable, with the Pretoria club falling 0-3 to Africa’s club of the century.

Orlando Stadium is smaller and more homely, but once it carries more than 20?000 fans, as was the case for last night’s first-leg final, the stadium can be intimidating.

These are things Al Ahly was used to with their ultras and flares at the Cairo Military Stadium and their National Stadium.

Somehow, the hostile crowd was a foreboding of what Pirates must expect in Cairo next Sunday.

One thing is be certain: Al?Ahly were reminded that they were in Soweto as this was as hostile as a South African crowd can get.

Fortunately, South African football has not caught on the ideas of having ultra groups. That would make watching derbies an unpleasant experience.

If there was ever a time when Pirates thought about using white as their change strip, the sight of fans in red made Orlando Stadium feel more like Cairo than anything else.

As a marketing ploy, red for danger has worked well domestically for the Bucs but for continental duties, the return to white needs to be considered.

The smattering of Kaizer Chiefs and Bloemfontein Celtic fans gave the stadium the more national look that matches of this magnitude deserve.

Not that it stopped the fans from singing as a nearly full Orlando Stadium was a cacophony of voices, vuvuzelas and drums; and as the game went on, the drums became louder.

The latter, though, was from a contingent of Al Ahly supporters who occupied a small corner on the right of the field.

It was fortunate for them that Mohamed Aboutrika scored on their side of the field, where their drums reverberated through the pin drop silence.

The fact that the Al Ahly players knelt in prayer in front of them was a mark of ultimate gratitude.

Aboutrika’s lazy elegance was a sight to behold and even the fans could only look in amazement when the 35-year-old had the ball between his bandy legs.

It would be safe to call him the “Egyptian Zidan” and the fans oohs and aahs were more of a sign of respect than anything else.

It was Soweto’s first CAF Champions League final and if the crowd and the traffic was anything to go by, South African fans will respond patriotically when required to do so.

FNB Stadium may be the home of South African football but its heart and soul still remains in Orlando, once the Mecca of SA football.

- Khanyiso Tshwaku

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