Orlando Pirates’ journey that started ten months ago in the CAF Champions League comes to its finale in the next two weekends, as the Buccaneers play holders and eight time champions Al Ahly of Egypt in the final. The clubs will be familiar with each other as they are both from Group A of the round robin stages, meeting twice, with Pirates claiming a win in Cairo and a draw in their final group match to qualify for the knockout stages. However, after that loss to Pirates in their first match, Al Ahly got their act together, settling issues in the change room and ending top of the group. They will be seeking their revenge here as they look to defend their title.
To Win (90mins)
Orlando Pirates 11/10
Al Ahly 5/2
Despite the internal battles at Pirates, public spats over who should be in the starting lineup, lack of support for the coach from supporters, and an injury list that left the team without the services of the likes of Siyabonga Sangweni, Sifiso Myeni, Andile Jali and Patrick Phungwayo at various stages of the journey, as captain of the ship, coach Roger De Sa still managed to sail through the stormy seas and now it appears the Sea Robbers are headed for the promised land. De Sa will give key players at least two days break during the week. Last Saturday’s fiery and bruising 1-1 Soweto derby draw against Kaizer Chiefs was Bucs’ 16th game since the start of the Absa Premiership season. But it was just the third league match for the CAF and MTN8 finalists.
In three months, Pirates have faced Al Ahly, Zamalek, Esperance and AC Leopards in the Champions League, and played four derbies against Chiefs. Having thrashed Golden Arrows 4-0 midweek in the Telkom Knockout, Pirates looked poised to convincingly thump their rivals when Kermit Erasmus opened the scoring with a cracking volley in the 10th minute. But Chiefs composed themselves and equalised through Kingston Nkhatha’s 40th- minute goal, though the striker appeared to be offside. Pirates drew 1-1 with Esperance to win on the away goals rule and book their place in the final of the competition for the first time since 1995. Pirates are unbeaten at home in the competition, having drawn twice in the group stages with AC Leopards and Al Ahly and beating Zamalek 4-1. They then drew with Esperance in the first leg of their semi-final.
Al Ahly beat Coton Sport of Cameroon 7-6 on penalties after their CAF Champions League 2nd leg semi-final ended in a 1-1 draw & 2-2 on aggregate in Cairo on October 20th. Al Ahly are the most successful club in Africa and were named as the African club of the century. “Very few clubs around the globe can’t afford to lose a single game and Ahly is one of them,” said former coach Manuel Jose. Expectations are high at a club who have more than 100 titles in 100 years. Al Ahly are unbeaten in all four of their travels since the group stages. However, the only match of those that were won was the one against fellow Egyptian side Zamalek, which was played on a neutral ground for security reasons. The danger man for the Egyptians is undoubtedly the modern legend of continental football, Mohamed Aboutrika. This is Aboutrika’s final two matches after he announced he will retire from football after the Champions League. The attacking midfielder was the star of the show in the semi-finals, scoring a vital away goal in their 1-1 draw in their first-leg.
VERDICT: Orlando Pirates 11/10
Pirates have proven strong in defence in the Champions League, especially at Orlando Stadium. The likes of Rooi Mahamutsa and Happy Jele should be up to the task of keeping things solid at the back once again, and it will be up to the Pirates attack to come to the party. Lennox Bacela recently showed why De Sa rates him so highly, as he struck a well taken hat-trick in the Telkom Knockout against Arrows last week. If Bacela can receive similar supply from the likes of Oupa Manyisa, Daine Klate, Andile Jali and Tlou Segolela, then there’s no doubt Pirates will find the back of the net. Al Ahly will come into this match cautiously but Pirates have the ammunition to get behind their defence and are tipped to make home advantage count with a win in this first leg match.