Orlando Pirates can secure their place in the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League this weekend when they travel to Congo to play AC Leopards. After four matches, Pirates sit top of Group A with seven points and a superior goal difference. Al Ahly are also on seven followed by Leopards and Zamalek on four points each.
The Buccaneers’ final game is at home against Al Ahly on September 1 and with the Egyptian side back at the top of their game Pirates wouldn’t want to leave qualification for the last day.
Leopards have been a sensational new name on the African football circuit over the past 19 months, with first-ever qualification for the group phase of the Champions League this year, following hard on the heels of their unexpected success in last year’s African Confederation Cup. They are leading the Congo National League after 19 matches and a game in hand with 45 points which includes 14 wins having lost only two matches. Leopards have have been superb at home en route to reaching the group stages of the competition. They also beat Zamalek here in the group stages but their unbeaten home record came to an end when Al Ahly beat them 1-0. Leopards have only managed one win and one draw in their four matches, scoring just two goals. They have however kept things tight at the back, conceding just three goals.
The Buccaneers played out a goalless draw with Leopards in the opening group game at Orlando Stadium and will be hoping to better that result especially knowing that Al Ahly managed a win in Congo. Pirates lost their first game of the group stages last time out with a 2-1 defeat in Egypt to Zamalek. Zamalek came out all guns blazing, and put Pirates under pressure from the first minute of the match. The Egyptians went 1-0 up on six minutes, when Lucky Lekgwathi had fouled Shikabala in the penalty area and the referee pointed to the spot. Lenox Bacela grabbed the equaliser just after the half-hour mark, after surging up the left wing, turning his defender and beating goalkeeper Abdul-Wahed Al-Sayed with a low shot. Early in the second half Meyiwa did well to punch a cross away and keep the score at 1-1, but a few minutes later he misread a corner-kick, and the ball reached an unmarked Salah Soliman at the far post, who headed home to give the hosts the lead again. Pirates will travel to the Congo without the trio of Thabo Matlaba, Andile Jali and Happy Jele, who are serving one-match suspensions. Thandani Ntshumayelo is making huge progress in recovering from an injury that sidelined him for the past four weeks but is doubtful for this match due to fitness. Defender Siyabonga Sangweni will probably make his return in this match. The Bafana Bafana defender picked up a knee injury in May and underwent surgery, but he is now ready for action. In preparing for this clash Pirates played Moroka Swallows in a friendly last Friday. The Buccaneers walloped their cross town rivals 4-0.
Pirates will struggle in the hostile conditions. They have several key players missing who have been integral in their Champions League campaign so far. Leopards haven’t been at the best in the Champions League group stages and Pirates are tipped to come away with a point.