Orlando Pirates vs Al Ahly | Saturday 26 September | Orlando Stadium | 18:30
Orlando Pirates will host African giants Al Ahly in the first leg of their CAF Confederation Cup semi-final at Orlando Stadium on Saturday evening.
The pair contested the Champions League final with Al Ahly overpowering Pirates in the second leg in Cairo with a 2-0 win after drawing the first tie 1-1. Al Ahly went on to win the Confederation Cup last season and have been impeccable in their title defence, topping Group A to set-up the meeting with the Buccaneers who finished second in Group B.
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Orlando Pirates had to settle for second spot in the group, after they were thumped 4-1 by Zamalek in their final Group B encounter two weeks ago. They were excellent up to that point, claiming four wins and losing just once, but with qualification for the last four sealed, Eric Tinkler’s men lacked motivation. The Buccaneers were ousted in both meetings against the Egyptian giants, losing 2-1 in Nelspruit in the first round meeting. However, they proved their quality by beating last year’s Champions League winners CS Sfaxien of Tunisia and the ever-difficult AC Leopards of Congo in both home and away meetings.
Goals have been scarce since the group stages of the tournament and Pirates’ tally of eight from six matches was the second highest of the eight sides with Zamalek having scored twelve times. Pirates have failed to replicate their CAF form domestically as they lie ninth on the ABSA Premiership standings with just one victory from four matches, losing twice at the time of writing. They were also booted out of the MTN8 in their first match, going down 1-0 to eventual winners Ajax Cape Town. They started their home form in the league excellently, whipping Chippa United 4-1 but had to settle for a point in their second home match to Mpumalanga Black Aces at Orlando Stadium last Friday. With the score at 1-1 after the first half, Pirates missed countless opportunities to find the winner and they will have to be much more clinical against an Al Ahly defence that conceded just one goal in their six group matches. The Sea Robbers have been dealt a blow for this clash as they will be without the services of defenders Happy Jele and Siyabonga Sangweni due to suspension. However, Tinkler won’t stress too much as he has the ever-reliable Rooi Mahamutsa to marshal the defence who will be partnered by Ghanaian Edwin Gyimah to fill the void left by the regulars.
Al Ahly topped Group A thanks to a 1-0 home win over Stade Malien two weeks ago. The Red Devils claimed the victory thanks to a 75th minute goal from striker Amr Gamal which saw them proceed to the knockout stages with four wins, a draw and one loss. They edged ahead of Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia thanks to a superior goal difference. Etoile and Ahly were level on head-to-head results (with each beating the other 1-0 at their home ground earlier in the competition), hence goal difference was used as a tiebreaker. Al Ahly are undoubtedly the giant of African football. They have the world record for the most number of trophies won by a club (130 official trophies) and with twenty international trophies they are the most successful club in the world. The Red Devils have won the Egyptian Premier League 37 times, the Egyptian Cup 35 times and the Egyptian Super Cup eight times and have never been relegated to the second tier.
In continental competitions, Al Ahly hold the record for the most number of wins in the CAF Champions League with eight titles, the defunct African Cup Winners' Cup four times, the CAF Super Cup six times, and the CAF Confederation Cup once. Al Ahly haven’t had a good past few weeks domestically. Rivals Zamalek were crowned league winners for the first time after eleven long years of Al Ahly dominance. Zamalek also beat them in the cup final on Monday evening, winning the match 2-0 to claim the league and cup double. The Confed Cup represents the last chance for Al Ahly to triumph over their foes and they will be eager to meet them in the final and be the team to stop their treble pursuit at the final hurdle. Ghanaian striker John Antwi is back in the matchday squad. The 22-year-old has been in the treatment room nursing an ankle injury he picked up during his side’s 1-0 win over Esperance in the Confederation Cup last month. The return of the highly-rated Ghanaian striker will serve as a real boost to the side, even if he is used as an impact player.
Pirates will be the team taking the game by the scruff of the neck as they know from experience that the second leg in Cairo will need a special performance to get a victory. Al Ahly were inconsistent on their travels in the group stages, winning once, losing once and drawing once. Their away form in the league was better, losing just three of their nineteen travels and winning eleven times. Their game plan will be to defend first and they wouldn’t mind getting a draw here. Pirates have been blunt in front of goal and this Al Ahly defence will give them a physical duel. The draw looks the best bet.