Brave Bucs come agonisingly close
> Robson Sharuko
Harare – ORLANDO PIRATES’ quest to ensure that the two most prestigious CAF inter-club football tournaments – the Champions League and the Confederation Cup – will be in trophy cabinets in Southern Africa, for the first time in history might have come short, but the brave Buccaneers crashed are being hailed for their spirited campaign.
The Soweto giants crashed at the final hurdle, in their bid to try and add the CAF Confederation Cup to the CAF Champions League silverware they won in 1995, after they lost 0-1 to Tunisian giants, Etoile du Sahel, in Sousse, on Sunday.
The two teams had battled to a 1-1 draw in Johannesburg in the first leg, with the Tunisians scoring a very late priceless goal, which meant that the Buccaneers needed to score, in the reverse leg in Sousse, for them to stand any chance of winning the trophy.
The odds were always against Pirates, given that the Tunisians had won all their home matches in the competition this year, including a 5-1 mauling of Egyptian giants, Zamalek, in the first leg of their semi-final showdown, which sent shockwaves throughout the tournament.
But Pirates had also impressed on the road, in their last match, beating another Egyptian heavyweight, Al Ahly, in Egypt, and memories of the Buccaneers’ triumph in the CAF Champions League 20 years ago, when they beat ASEC Mimosas in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, were evoked by their fans and a South African media that wanted them to win the Confederation Cup.
Jerry Sikhosana, the hero of that match when his golden goal beat the Ivorians, even backed the Class of 2015 to do what his men did in Abidjan, exactly 20 years ago, and bring the trophy back to South Africa.
“We were similarly not given a chance against ASEC. They were an all-conquering side, who had a fearsome home record,” Sikhosana, nicknamed the “Legs of Thunder”, told The Sowetan newspaper ahead of the match in Sousse on Sunday.
“Etoile, like ASEC then, may have a good home record, but it means nothing. When we played ASEC they left here celebrating.
“They told us at their home it’s a matter of how many goals we would concede. I mean, they had scored two at our home venue. So they had every right to be over-confident.
“Pirates must simply forget about what happened in the first leg. This is a new game and if they score, Etoile must chase the game.
“I have a good feeling Kermit (Erasmus) will score and Pirates will win. After all, they have done so well away.”
Of course, Erasmus didn’t win and neither did Pirates come back with the trophy on Sunday as they slumped to a 0- 1 defeat in a game in which they fluffed a number of chances in a display that was full of both adventure and spirit.
Had the Buccaneers won in Sousse, it would have been an historic moment for African football with both the CAF Champions League trophy and the CAF Confederation Cup trophy finding their way into trophy cabinets of clubs in the southern part of the continent for the first time in the history of the two inter-club competitions.
The tournaments have been dominated, for a long time, by North and West African clubs, and – with Congolese giants TP Mazembe having won the 2015 CAF Champions League, their third triumph in the last six years, the success of the Buccaneers in the Confederation Cup would have brought the two big trophies to this part of the continent.
Only on five occasions, in the past 50 years, have the winners of the Champions League and the Confederation Cup, including the old Cup of Cup Winners Cup, come from south of the Sahara in the same year with Hafia of Guinea and Enugu Rangers of Nigeria winning the two tournaments in 1977, Canon Yaounde of Cameroon and Horoya AC of Guinea winning the tournaments in 1978 and Union Doula and Canon Yaounde winning the tournaments in 1979.
Canon Yaounde and TP Mazembe won the two tournaments in 1980 while the Congolese side and Stade Malien of Mali were triumphant in the same year in 2009.
Despite Orlando Pirates’ failure to win the Confederation Cup, the club hailed their players for their heroic campaign.
“To all the players who were involved in the 2015 CAF Confederation Cup….SALUTE!!! #Once&Always,” the club said on its Twitter and Facebook accounts.
And the fans appeared to agree.
“We as mighty Bucs fans we say we are very proud of you guys you have raised SA soccer to a very high standard, great achievement,” said Proper Maroyas Zie Ncube on the club’s Facebook page while Christian Maseko agreed with the message, “Pirates is our team, salute to the boys, you’re the best team in African football. We are proud of you.”
Sipho Mpho, another fan, said “I just want to salute Orlando Pirates for reaching the final of CCC (CAF Confederation Cup final) and I also want to salute all the fans, they were behind Pirates. Thank you for making us proud boys.”
And Baba Armstrong Mupostori said, “to be honest to all of you the soccer fraternity, Orlando ‘The Mighty Buccaneers aka Sea Robbers’ Pirates, did us proud by reaching both the finals of the most prestigious tournaments in African footballing history.
“Above all it takes hard work, perseverance, dominance and brilliance year in year out at the biggest stages to achieve this and become the best.
“I support you guys for a job well done.”
The club’s coach, Eric Tinkler, said his men gave it all they had in their bid to try and win the Confederation Cup this year.
“I think we did give it all. I’m very‚ very proud of the boys‚” Tinkler told the South African media.
“We started a bit nervy in the first half‚ I felt. I think the players were a bit scared to concede. We were giving the ball away cheaply and playing the long ball. And against the wind it wasn’t helping us – the ball was just coming back constantly.
“They were winning the second ball. They were a bit quicker to get to the ball than us.
“But I felt the goal they got was fortuitous. Unfortunately it ricocheted off our own player‚ caught Felipe Ovono by surprise and went into the back of the net.
“But I felt the best chance in the first half actually came from us. I thought Thabo Rakhale should have done a lot better‚ and we wold have gone in at halftime at least 1-1‚ with everything open again.
“In the second half we responded extremely well. We told the players to put the ball on the deck‚ pass it and move with a lot more speed.
“We really dominated. Created great chances – Rakhale had a great chance again‚ took another touch and their keeper could smother. A ricochet hit their keeper in the face‚ the free-kick from Sifiso Myeni.
“But fantastic performance in the second half – I thought we should have got a bit more from it.”