Orlando Pirates continue their quest to add another star to their badge this weekend when they host Esperance in the CAF Champions League semi-final. There will be two legs with the away tie to be played two weeks time in Tunisia. The other semi-final sees Egyptian giants Al Ahly play Cameroon’s Coton Sport.
Pirates claimed the Champions League semi-final place after playing out to a 0-0 draw against visiting defending champions Al-Ahly. With another Egyptian side Zamalek thumping Congo-Brazzaville’s AC Leopards (4-1) it meant that Ahly finished first place in Group A with 11 points and Pirates came second with eight while Zamalek moved up to third place and Leopards anchored the table on equal points with Zamalek (7). Pirates may have failed to win the MTN8, but Roger De Sa’s influence has seen the club improve after a poor campaign last season.
De Sa has transformed the team which disappointed all last season, juggling injury problems, a heavy fixture list and a reactionary set of fans. Following Pirates loss to Platinum Stars in the final, renewed calls for De Sa’s head have begun to emerge, calls which originated from the very beginning of his tenure at Orlando Pirates. Last season was poor for the Soweto giants’ standards, losing in the Telkom Knockout quarter-finals, getting knocked out in the last 32 of the Nedbank Cup and finishing third on the log with rivals Chiefs claiming the league title. This season De Sa has turned a corner by making the Champions League semi-final and making it into the MTN8 final.
De Sa’s Buccaneers have shone in the Champions League so far, as his side began a journey which has seen them defy the odds, display brilliance at times and achieve a spot in the last four. Defeating Al Ahly and Zamalek changed opinions. De Sa expects his men to “come out firing” against Esperance on Saturday following their cup heartache. De Sa told his club’s official website: “I have no doubt the guys will go all out and play for a favourable result on Saturday. After the loss in the final, no one will need extra motivation for this one. The guys will come out firing and ready for war. Winning at home is vital in this tournament and fortunately for us, nothing in this competition is new to any of our players, so we are okay.”
2001 Champions League winners Esperance signed off the group phase with a 2-1 away win over Coton Sport, two weeks ago. The two-time champions made it five wins out of six in the group stage to finish tops in Group B. The ‘Blood and Gold’ lost their first match in Angola before going on to win five consecutive games and conceded just three goals, scoring nine. They are a well organised unit with powerful Cameroonian Yannick N’Djeng leading the line up front. The Tunisian champions are just two matches into the new season and after winning their first match away are coming off a home draw with last season’s fifth place finishers Etoil Sahel.
Pirates have been solid at Orlando Stadium during the group stages but in two matches failed to take one of their many chances and get on the scoresheet. They drew with AC leopards and Al Ahly but managed to shine in one home match beating Zamalek 4-1. Pirates should continue on those solid defensive performances and their fortunes in front of goal are expected to change as they are tipped to get a win here.