Pirates illuminate Rainbow Nation
Harare – Orlando Pirates provided the ray of light that illuminated a Rainbow Nation that has been plunged into darkness by a shadow of gloom cast by huge setbacks, on the rugby and cricket fields, and a flood of negativity in the boardroom of the South African Football Association (SAFA).
The Buccaneers defied the odds to edge Tunisian giants Esperance and book a ticket into the final of the African Champions League – exactly 18 years after lifting the premier silverware in club football on the continent.
Pirates’ stunning success story provided a spark of light in a country that has suffered its fair share of disappointments in its mainstream sporting disciplines in recent weeks with the Springboks being beaten, home and away, by the All-Blacks in the Rugby Championships and the Proteas being handed their first Test defeat in 15 matches.
Exactly a year before the 2015 Rugby World Cup gets underway in England, the Springboks were reminded who remains the dominant bull in the kraal when the All-Blacks arrived at Ellis Park, venue of the South Africans’ unforgettable triumph in this tournament in 1995 over the same opponents, with new Zealand winning 38-27 to secure the Rugby Championships trophy.
The Springboks could have won the Rugby Championships, by beating the All-Blacks with a bonus point in the final match of the tournament, and the organizers chose Ellis Park as the venue, to provide the sub-plot of events in the past when the South Africans became world champions at the expense of the New Zealanders.
A no-holds-barred encounter, in which the hosts gave as much as they got in a contest exploding in intensity, powered by raw passion and in which the players turned on a show with some wonderful running rugby, was hailed by many respected analysts as one of the greatest rugby games ever played.
But that will provide just cold comfort to a Springboks team, and their fans, who know that this All-Blacks side is not going anywhere soon and, unbeaten in the last two years, will again be the team to beat at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.
The Proteas have powered their way to the top of the world in Test cricket, going for 15 Tests without defeat and winning in England along the way, but their magnificent run was brought to an end last week when they were beaten, inside four days, by a rampant Pakistan in the first of two Tests in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
That the same Pakistan side had been beaten, in their last Test just a month prior to their tie against the South Africans, by Zimbabwe at Harare Sports Club, only rubbed salt into the emotional wounds of the proud Proteas and their fans as they digested the magnitude of their sensational defeat that brought a timely reminder that they were human, after all.
Amid all this gloom, news broke out last week that Puma had severed its links with SAFA because the Germany sportswear manufacturing giant was not happy with the way the organization had handled allegations of match-fixing that were levelled against some of its principal officers. But on Saturday, October 19, a group of Sea Robbers gave South African football, in particular, and the Rainbow Nation’s sporting fraternity, in general, a reason to celebrate when they held their nerve in Tunis to qualify for the final of the Champions League where they will now meet Egyptian giants and holders Al Ahly.
Given what Orlando Pirates went through, to somehow beat the machinations of referees plucked from hell who tried, and failed, to have a huge hand in the outcome of their qualifier against TP Mazembe of the DRC, including awarding the hosts two dubious penalties, some will feel that it’s poetic justice that the Soweto giants should be in the final.
They earned their stripes in Tunis, with a performance full of courage and style, and could have won a game, which they dominated, hitting the upright once and blowing a number of good chances before settling for a 1-1 draw that was enough to win them the game on away goals rule.
“As South African Football Association, we would like to congratulate Orlando Pirates for a magnificent achievement in the CAF Champions League semi-final clash against Esperance,” SAFA president, Danny Jordaan, said in a statement published on the organisation’s official website.
“We would like to say to the players and the technical team, your feat in Tunisia was of heroic proportions. You have made the whole country proud with your guts, determination and resilience. Not many gave you a chance but you did well.
“This is indeed a wonderful day for South African football and this milestone augurs well for the game in the country. Your success is our success because you are representing not only Pirates supporters but [also] millions of football fans in South Africa. In our view, you are already champions just by reaching the finals, and we have faith that you will go all the way and lift the trophy.
“We would like to assure you of our support.” Jordaan recently revealed that he was one of the few South Africans who boarded the plane to support Pirates, in 1995, in Cote d’Ivoire for the second leg of their Champions League tie against ASEC Mimosas when many in South Africa had written them off following a draw at home. Pirates beat ASEC in their backyard to be crowned champions.
South African Premier Soccer League chief executive, Brand de Villiers, said this marked a proud moment for football in his country. “This is a proud moment for the Premier Soccer League when one of its members achieves such a milestone,” De Villiers says.
“We would like to congratulate Orlando Pirates’ management, technical staff and players for reaching the final of the Champions League and I would also like to invite the football family in the country to join me as we wish them the best of luck when they play in the CAF Champions League final.”