Pirates of the African football jungle reach another final

>Robson Sharuko

Harare – TWENTY years after they were crowned kings of African club football, Orlando Pirates are just two steps away from toasting that triumph with another success story on the continent after they qualified for the final of the 2015 CAF Confederation Cup on Sunday.

The Soweto giants, who became the first Southern African club to win the coveted African Club Championship after edging ASEC Mimosas of Cote d’Ivoire in 1995, are now on the verge of adding the CAF Confederation Cup to their trophy cabinet after a sensational triumph at the weekend.

Pirates beat the continent’s most successful club, Al Ahly of Egypt, home and away, a feat that very few clubs in Africa have managed in the history of the inter-club competitions, winning a thrilling second leg 4-3 as goals rained at the Suez Stadium in Egypt.

The win in Egypt, considered improbable if not impossible by many experts in the countdown to the game, followed a 1-0 victory for the Buccaneers in Johannesburg in the first leg and completed a remarkable 5-3 aggregate triumph over their more fancied opponents.

Pirates’ fearless and stylish performance, which was rich in attacking football that overwhelmed their opponents’ defence in their fortress, has won them lavish praise, across the continent and justified why many believe they are Southern Africa’s finest football club.

That Pirates can still have the energy to score four goals in Egypt, in a season that started in August last year, has just made their latest achievement all the more remarkable, and justifies the praise that the Sea Robbers have been receiving from all corners of the world.

Two years ago, Pirates reached the final of the African Champions League but were beaten in the battle for the crown of champions of the continent by Al Ahly.

The Orlando Pirates official Facebook page, which had 1 334 244 likes as of Monday evening (5 October), triggered a rush of 3 803 comments from fans, across the football divide, when its administrator posted that the Buccaneers had come back from two goals down to take the lead 3-2 and eventually end the match as a contest.

The post that Pirates had defeated Al Ahly 5-3 attracted 2 854 comments, and was shared 2 400 times, with even Ahly’s fiercest rivals, Zamalek, who lost in the other CAF Confederation semi-final to Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia, despite winning the home leg of their last four showdown 3-0, congratulating the Sea Robbers for a job well done.

“I am a Zimbabwean, I don’t know why Bafana Bafana struggle to win while they can use 98 percent of Pirates players,” Ngonidzashe Matare, a Zimbabwean football fan, commented on the Pirates Facebook page.

The Buccaneers have a huge support base in Zimbabwe with thousands, if not millions, of Highlanders fans supporting a club that shares their iconic black-and-white colours and whose players flash the ghost sign before every match.

“Tonight was all about pride,” Orlando Pirates defender Rooi Mahamutsa told the club’s official website.

“It wasn’t an easy match by any means. They (Ahly) made it very difficult for us to get comfortable, however, we showed enough character in the second half and bounced back.

“It is hard to explain the process we went through but it’s as if we all were in tune with what we (as players) had to do.

“After all, this match was more than just a match for us as players or the club; it was for the millions of supporters back home who have supported us through and through . . . it was also about the pride of the nation.

“As the only Southern African team in the competition, we knew we had the responsibility to represent our country the way it should be represented.

“This is a huge achievement but the job is not complete as yet. We will celebrate tonight’s victory but tomorrow is back to work.”

The South African Premier Soccer League chief executive, Brand de Villiers, said Pirates’ success in Egypt was another confirmation that football was on the rise in Southern Africa.

“It is a known fact that Southern African clubs have struggled in continental club championships in the last 10 years or so,” De Villiers said.

“What Orlando Pirates has done and continues to do, is to affirm the belief that club football in the Southern African region is on the ascendancy.

“To reach both CAF Champions League and CAF Confederations Cup final in a space of two years is a massive feat and historical in the South African context.

“We need to support them as they attempt to overcome one more hurdle in the final of the CAF Confederations Cup coming up in a few weeks.

“On behalf of the PSL family, we would like to congratulate the club management, technical staff and players for the road travelled so far.

“The PSL wishes them all the best as they prepare for the CAF Confederations Cup two-legged final.”

Twenty years ago, Pirates stunned African football when they won the African Cup of Club Championship and two of the heroes of that campaign, Helman “Midnight Express” Mkhalele and John Moeti believe that the Buccaneers have transformed themselves, in the past two decades, into a major force on the continent.

“It’s not every team in the (SA) PSL that can share Pirates’ reputation on the continent,” Mkhalele told Soccer Laduma.

“Other African teams know and respect Pirates because of their achievements and knowing that your opposition respects you builds you up with confidence, hence we see the way they are playing in the CAF Confederation Cup.”

And Moeti, a former Pirates skipper, said his old club had won the right to be considered a giant in African football.

“Pirates are at the stage of the competition whereby they should be comfortable playing anyone,” he said.

The Soweto giants’ victory over Al Ahly and Etoile du Sahel’s success over Zamalek prevented an all-Egyptian final in this year’s CAF Confederation Cup and meant that the two teams that finished second in their groups qualified for the grand final.

Etoile du Sahel thrashed Zamalek 5-1 in the first leg of their semi-final in Tunisia and that meant they could even afford a 0-3 reverse, in the second leg at the weekend, and still qualify for the final.

October 2015
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