Orlando Pirates will play their crucial CAF Champions League semi-final 2nd leg in Tunisia on Saturday. The Buccaneers go into the match in a confident mood after a 0-0 draw in the first leg at Orlando Stadium three weeks ago.
This was a long way from the perfect result for the Buccaneers to take to Tunis. Home wins are usually key in continental competition, and Pirates have now won just once in Orlando since the group stages of this year’s Champions League kicked off. However, any win, or a score draw, will see them through to the final and the Buccaneers will feel they are capable of that.
Tunisian giants Esperance will look to take the bull by the horns by going all out attack in this match. Esperance have been the team to beat during the CAF Champions League. They sealed their passage into the semi-finals of the tournament with two games to spare. Esperance have reached the last three finals and were triumphant in 2011 – displaying the ability of their current crop of players. Coached by the effusive Maher Kanzari, Esperance have based their recent success on playing with everlasting positive intent. Esperance may have lost their first match of the group stages against Recreativo de Libolo, but the side did not dwell in the past, notching up five straight wins and scoring nine goals in the process. They are Tunisia’s most successful team, winning the League a record 25 times – 13 more than closest rivals Club Africain. From 1998 to 2012, they claimed domestic championship honours no less than 12 times. Six of Kanzari’s players were called up by ex-Bucs mentor and current Tunisia coach Ruud Krol for the World Cup qualifier against Cameroon last Sunday. They are: goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifia, defenders Chamseddine Dhaouadi, Khalil Chemmam and Sameh Derbali, and midfielders Khaled Mouelhi and Hocine Ragued.
After losing the MTN8 final in penalties to Platinum Stars two weeks back, Pirates were determined when they faced Mpumalanga Black Aces in the Telkom Knockout last-16 last Tuesday. The Buccaneers left it late, but won with style in a riveting 3-1 victory at Mbombela Stadium. After an end-to-end first half left the sides deadlocked on a goal apiece by Lennox Bacela for Pirates and Mabhuti Khenyeza for Aces, the Buccaneers piled on the pressure, but it wasn’t until Bacela’s second in the 86th minute that Pirates could entertain reaching the quarter-finals with any certainty. Oupa Manyisa’s third with the last kick five minutes into injury time sealed an emphatic win. Pirates will be boosted by the return of midfielder Thandani Ntshumayelo ahead of this clash. Meanwhile, Pirates could be without Sifiso Myeni who has just started light training, although he still had adequate time to get fit before the match. Siyabonga Sangweni remains the only player who is certainly going to miss the Esperance game after being ruled out for up to 12 weeks due to an Achilles tendon injury.
Pirates’ away form started off well in the group stages with a 3-0 win over Al Ahly in Egypt. However, they went on to lose their other two away matches 1-0 at both Zamalek in Egypt and AC Leopards in Congo. Esperance won all three home matches in their group stages with two narrow wins by a one goal margin and one 2-0 win. All Pirates need is a score draw to make the final and they will come into this match attack minded as goals will get them through. Bacela’s confidence would have been boosted after his recent brace and Pirates are tipped to pull off the victory here.