Can Bucs be Africa’s finest?

2013-11-10 10:00

There’s sense of history repeating itself for Pirates, but it’s do or die for them tonight

There will be no red carpet when Orlando Pirates confront Egyptian giants Al Ahly in front of their 35 000-strong “red army” at the Arab Contractors Stadium in Cairo tonight.

They should expect to be confronted with a reception similar to the one they got 19 years ago, when they were faced with a yellow-and-black army of ASEC Mimosas die-hards at the hallowed Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

Many scenarios will be replayed going into today’s final. Two in particular are:

» Pirates had to overcome a 2-2 draw from the first leg at FNB Stadium – they go into today’s match level at 1-1 from last week’s match at Orlando Stadium;

» Regular captain Innocent Mncwango missed the 1995 final due to suspension and Edward “MaGents” Motale lifted the trophy as stand-in captain – today Happy Jele is suspended for the match, leading to Lucky Lekgwathi getting the armband.

It is also important to note that Pirates fired coach Joe Frickleton after the first leg and the late Ronald Mkandawire, who was his assistant, took over and won the cup in 1995.

This week, the 37-year-old Lekgwathi, a battle-scarred veteran of several tough scraps, adopted a “Yes we can!” mantra. He said: “This is the only missing medal in my cabinet after winning everything on offer in our league. It would be great to lift this one so that whenever I decide to retire, I’ll know I have achieved almost everything.”

He said the team had grown stronger because of the problems faced along the way – from their

ill-treatment in Lubumbashi, Zambia, when they went to play TP Mazembe; to Tunisia, where they faced Espérance de Tunis in the semifinals.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pirates players were prevented from drinking the fruit juice provided by the hotel, got a harsh reception at the stadium, and Lekgwathi was sent off.

The hosts were awarded two “dubious” penalties, which goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa saved.

In Tunisia, Meyiwa had laser pointers directed at his eyes to distract him during a night match.

Coach Roger De Sa is confident and believes Al Ahly will be under pressure from their own supporters, especially if they adopt a defensive approach.

“We know they are well structured and organised at the back but we have a plan to unlock them. The good thing is we know each other well, but we mean to surprise them with one or two tactical switches,” he said.

He said his charges were highly motivated by the prospect of representing the continent at the Fifa Club World Cup in Morocco next month if they win.

News filtering through from Al Ahly’s secret camp was that coach Mohamed Youssef had selected the same squad that travelled to South Africa last week.

Al Ahly are no slouches, having won this tournament seven times and being named the “African club of the century” by CAF in 2000.

With players such as their 37-year-old veteran skipper Wael Gomaa and the deadly international Mohamed Aboutreika, Pirates can never underestimate their opposition.

The scenarios

A goalless draw – An away goal rule will mean Al Ahly will lift their eighth title by virtue of having scored an away goal.

A 1-1 draw – The match will head straight to penalties as the clubs will be all-square after last week’s 1-1 draw.

High-scoring draw – Any draw from 2-2 upwards will see Pirates lift the trophy as they would have scored more away goals.

The winner – Whoever wins today’s final will represent Africa at the Fifa Club World Cup in Morocco next month.

CAF Champions League final by the numbers

1 Orlando Pirates’ lone Champions League trophy, won in 1995

2 Pirates and Al Ahly have already shared the spoils twice in their previous two meetings

3 Pirates and Al Ahly have already met three times this year. It is also Pirates’ third visit to Egypt

4 Today’s final will be the fourth meeting between the two teams

6 Pirates have gone six matches without a win in the Champions League since their last victory over Zamalek SC in September: four draws – Al Ahly (twice); Espérance (twice); and two loses (Zamalek SC and AC Léopards)

7 Al Ahly’s Champions League titles

Fast facts

38 The age of Al Ahly captain Wael Gomaa

37 The age of Orlando Pirates captain Lucky Lekgwathi

The venue: Arab Constructors Stadium in Cairo

27 000 The stadium’s capacity

SS4/ HD4/ SABC1: TV channels on which the match will be broadcast

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