Crisis-hit Pirates through

Pirates, winners of the tournament in 1995, booked their place in the mini-league phase ‘ where teams are rewarded with monetary incentives for winning matches ‘ after a bruising battle against Sudanese side Al Hilal. In the week that South African football legend Patrick “Ace” Ntsoelengoe died, Pirates ensured that there was a silver lining in the dark cloud by qualifying for the mini-league phase. But they did it the hard way. Having won 2-0 at home at Ellis Park, the Buccaneers were always favourites to qualify against an experienced opponent that had impressed just about everyone in the opening rounds of matches. But the Bucs were made to fight all the way and eventually they went through courtesy of the away goals rule after going down 1-3 at the Wod Noby Stadium in Omdorman ‘ a city along the giant Nile River. Zambian striker Isaac Chansa was the hero as his priceless away goal was the difference between Pirates progressing to the next round and being knocked out of the tournament. The Pirates camp had been rocked prior to the trip to Sudan by the sudden resignation of coach Kosta Papic after the Bucs failed to win the league championship for the second year running. The Serbian coach, who also lost the championship on the final day to Kaizer Chiefs last year, tendered his resignation before the final game against Mamelodi Sundowns today. But the Pirates’ leadership turned down that resignation and insisted that Papic lead the team during the trip to Sudan. Papic obliged and was on the bench on Sunday as Pirates weathered a storm to go through. With qualification for the mini-league phase completed, the Pirates leadership met in Johannesburg last week to discuss the crisis in their coaching team. They then released the following statement on their website: “The Orlando Pirates Management met and deliberated on the resignation of the Head Coach, Mr. Kostadin Papic. “The management considered all the facts at its disposal. It has taken into consideration that in December 2005 Papic had tendered his resignation. At the time the coach requested the club to respond positively and quickly due to ‘certain family problems.’ “The management prevailed on the coach to reconsider his cause of action to that effect the Coach stayed on. “The current resignation of the Coach is therefore the second to be considered by the Orlando Pirates Football Club Management in one season. “In this resignation the Coach states ‘unaccomplished results and unachieved ambitions.’ He further states that his moral and professional duty obligates him to resign. “The Management deemed it unfortunate that added pressure was created on Papic by untimely press statements he made that if he fails to win the PSL Championship he would resign. “It is true that results, especially the PSL Championship, are a critical yardstick for the Club. It is a way the Club expresses its appreciation to the multitude of our loyal supporters. “Notwithstanding the existence of a legally binding agreement that the Club can enforce to keep the coach for a further season, the Club has positively considered the Coach’s commitment, dedication and professional way in which he discharged his duties in the two years he has been part of Orlando Pirates Football Club. “This and the unwillingness of management to make Papic stay at the Club against his will have further motivated the Club to accept Papic’s resignation and release him of his contractual obligations with immediate effect. “Management has no doubt that a coach of Papic’s caliber would find no difficulty in finding employment anywhere in the world. “The Club therefore wishes Papic well in all his future endeavours. “In relation to the remaining games of the season, Assistant Coach, Tebogo Moloi will lead the team assisted by Moma Medic. “Going forward, the announcement of the position of Head Coach will form part of the announcements of the new signings for the 2006/2007 season.” Papic is gone and Pirates can now look forward to the Champions League without their Serbian coach. Pirates’ owner, wealthy Johannesburg business mogul Irvin Khosa, did not comment about the end of his club’s relationship with Papic. Instead he chose to comment on the death of legendary forward Ace Ntsoelengoe. “When South Africa was isolated from the world, Ace Ntsoelengoe’s magic kept local football alive,” said Khosa. “His ‘personality breed’ along with that of Jomo Sono carried our clubs for a decade. “Their absence when playing overseas did not deter from this magic. Their contribution to the Soweto derby is legendary. “I am happy that Orlando Pirates played its part when in 1985 we staged a testimonial game for Jomo Sono on our side and Ace Ntsoeleongoe, Teenage Dladla and Sylvester Kole for Kaizer Chiefs. “My condolences to and from of all of us at Orlando Pirates to Ace Ntsoelengoe’s family, the Kaizer Chiefs management and supporters. May his soul rest peacefully. “History and ‘football gods’ will remember him fondly.” Patrick “Ace” Ntsoelengoe enjoyed one of the longest international careers of any South African football star during the dark days of the apartheid regime. He was a naturally gifted player who first played for Chiefs in 1969 and ended his career at his beloeved club in 1990. In between he spent 14 years playing in the United States and Canada. While Pirates now have to plan for the Champions League mini-league phase, the fairy-tale story of little Indian Ocean islanders USCAFOOT finally came to an end. The Madagascar team have been one of the toast of this tournament with their surprise run in which they dumped Mamelodi Sundowns out of the competition in what is widely believed o be the biggest shock so far this year. But having conceded half a dozen goals in their first trip into the hostile world of West Africa, USCAFOOT were always on the back foot ahead of the second leg matches. To their credit, USCAFOOT edged Asante Kotoko 1-0 in the return leg in Madagascar but their victory was too little too late to save their soul. But the little islanders crashed out 1-6 on aggregate but having done far better than any Madagascar team in the history of the Champions League. It was also the end of the road for the other minnows ‘Renacimiento of Equatorial Guinea ‘ who were thumped 0-4 by holders Al Ahly in Cairo. The Atlantic Ocean islanders had also done very well leading up to this match and had bravely held the Egyptian giants to a goalless draw in the first leg. But they found out, as many visitors before them, that it is not an easy trip to Cairo and Al Ahly ‘ voted the greatest African team of all-time ‘ will again be favourites to win the tournament this year. The other remaining Southern African Team ‘ FC Lupopo of the Democratic Republic of Congo ‘ also crashed out after losing back-to-back matches at the hands of Nigerian powerhouse Enyimba. Lupopo were beaten 0-2 in Nigeria and lost 0-1 at home to go out 0-3 on aggregate. Southern African teams have generally struggled in the African Champions League and, on average, supply just one team in the mini-league phase. This is largely because most of the best players from this region move to European clubs while the clubs in North Africa are able to hold on to their talented players. Only two Southern Africans teams ‘ Orlando Pirates and TP Mazembe ‘ have ever won the continent’s premier knockout tournament. The region’s leaders have been calling for an improved performance this year as football tries to rally itself ahead of the 2010 World Cup finals which will be held in this region. But they will be disappointed yet again that only Orlando Pirates managed to weather the storm. There have been calls that the Council of Southern African Football Associations should introduce an inter-club tournament along the lines of the tournament for the national teams. Those who have been calling for such a tournament believe that it is the only way that clubs in this region can improve their game and become competitive on the continent.

May 2006
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