Come on Orlando Pirates!
The stage has been set; battle lines in Cairo have been drawn. Orlando Pirates, this year’s surprise package in the CAF Champions league, make the northern trip to the heart of Egypt where they will take on seven-time CAF Champions league winners Al Ahly in the second leg of the champion’s league final.
The first leg, which ended in a 1-all draw at Orlando Stadium means Pirates will need to beat Al Ahly in Cairo or play to a 2-2 draw if they are to lift the CAF Champions League title for the second time in the history of the club.
There are no prizes for guessing that it will not all be too easy for Pirates in the return leg. Founded in 1907, Al Ahly was in 2000 named the “African Club of the Century” and the most successful club of the 20th century in the African continent, according to CAF, closely followed by their rivals Zamalek SC.
The club has a rich history in continental football, winning the African Cup of Champions Clubs in 1982 and 1987. They triumphed again in the renamed competition in 2001, 2005, 2006 and 2008 under the coaching of the Portuguese Manuel José, then finally 2012 making them the most crowned team in Africa, with seven Champions League titles, four Cup-Winners' Cups, five Super Cups and one Afro-Asian Club Championship.
In 2001, Al Ahly celebrated their crowning of club of the century in Africa by facing the European club of the century Real Madrid, which Al Ahly won 1-0 To many sceptics, a win for the Buccaneers in Cairo may be an unattainable feat but the youthful Pirates side has shown so much character in the competition grinding out massive victories away from home, among those being a 3-0 beating which they handed to Al Ahly in the group stages.
Their campaign, which took 68 782km, 91 hours in planes, and 17 matches across the continent over 10 months, would have made military generals very proud because they have done this for a worthy cause, trying to stop the dominance of continental football by northern African clubs.
Because of their positive outlook, Pirates have put themselves in line for a second continental title, earning countless admirers with their style of football.
It has not been easy for Pirates, given the considerable expense of participation. Twice they chartered planes at exorbitant prices, for instance, to get their players to matches in the Comoros Islands and Congo-Brazzaville.
And the players have handled a grueling schedule. They took a brief holiday before returning for pre-season training in June and have now played 18 competitive games in the last 14 weeks.
But travelling around Africa has given Pirates players a mental fortitude which sees them pick up their weary bodies and return to battle, time after time.
Orlando Pirates winger Daine Klate was disappointed that they allowed Al Ahly to score a priceless away goal in the first leg but believes that Bucs can still use their injury time equalizer to turn the tables and win their second continental title after their famous 1995 triumph over Asec Mimosa of Cote d’Ivoire.
“Obviously, the goal is something we can take to Cairo. We didn’t want to concede. First prize would have been 0-0, but at 1-1 we are still in it,” Klate told reporters during the post-match press conference.
The battle hardened Klate said whatever Bucs experience in Cairo, it cannot be worse than their tempestuous match against TP Mazembe in Lubumbashi in the knockout stages.
“We came through that, and we can always go back and look at that reference. They can take us wherever they want, a good field, a bad field, keep on changing the venue, the game from Saturday to Sunday ‑ whatever blows their hair back. We just have to be ready for whatever,” he said.
The hopes of Southern Africa are firmly placed on the shoulders of Orlando Pirates as they troop into the 30 000-seater Air Defence Stadium near Cairo's airport.
The region is pregnant with expectation and firmly believes that the Soweto based side can win it for them. Come on Pirates!