The CAF Confederation Cup Group Stage gets underway this weekend. It’s been a long road to get to this stage of the competition and looking at Orlando Pirates’ group it will only get more difficult as they look to add Confederation Cup continental success to their triumph in the 1996 CAF Champions League. The Buccaneers were drawn in Group B with AC Leopards of Congo whom they will travel to this weekend as well as Northern African heavyweights CS Sfaxien (Tunisia) and Zamalek (Egypt). It’s familiar territory for a lot of the Pirates players as they faced Leopards two years ago in Dolisie during the group stages of the Champions League. They were beaten 1-0 but still managed to go all the way to the final that year.
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The Congolese champions have won their domestic league for the past three seasons and were topping the table after seventeen games this campaign when the league was postponed last month. The Beasts From Niari were runners-up for three seasons prior to claiming the title in 2012 but have now firmly established themselves as the sole giants in the country. They find themselves in the Confederation Cup after being knocked out of the Champions League in the second round by Egyptian outfit Smouha, 2-1 on aggregate. In the first round of the Champions League they ousted Kenyan champions Gor Mahia 2-0 on aggregate after winning each leg 1-0. After being demoted to Africa’s version of the Europa League they had to overcome Nigerian club Warri Wolves to book a spot in the group stages and did so with a 4-3 aggregate victory over the two legs. Leopards have been a sensational name on the African football circuit over the past three years, as they’ve proved themselves in some tough Champions League ties since winning the Confederation Cup in 2012. The Congolese giants have been superb at home during CAF competition this year, winning all three home encounters.
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Orlando Pirates progressed to the Confederation Cup group stages after thumping AS Kaloum 4-1 in their second leg tie at the Bidvest Stadium a few weeks ago. Eric Tinkler’s side secured their group stage status with an emphatic 6-1 aggregate win. The Sea Robbers once again proved to be the best team in the country when it comes to battling in Africa as they remain the only South African team competing in this year’s CAF competitions, Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns crashing out of the Champions League. Pirates’ road to the group stages started with a 4-3 aggregate win over Uganda Revenue Authority. In the second round they faced CF Mounana of Gabon. They eased to a 5-2 win over two legs before humiliating Kaloum of Guinea to reach the last eight. The last time the Buccaneers travelled to Dolisie they were in and out of Congo after being forced to fly by charter but this time they will take a scheduled flight and four-hour bus ride to their destination. “Two years ago we really didn’t have an option but to go by charter, because our game there was sandwiched between two league matches,” said Pirates’ Floyd Mbele. “The $120000 [about R1.5 million] for a charter plane this time is far too prohibitive. Plus we have the time to travel.” Pirates fly to Pointe Noire on Thursday and then travel by bus to Dolisie. “It is a 150km journey but the road is bad so it will take about four hours.” The trip to Congo will be, by far, the most tedious for Pirates in their group. Pirates will be without the suspended duo of Rooi Mahamutsa and Thamsanqa Gabuza. The pair are serving a one-match ban after picking up two yellow cards apiece at the competition. Veteran defender Lucky Lekgwathi, who has not played a single game in 2014/15, is also unavailable for the group stage tie due to injury.
Pirates are unbeaten in their six Confederations Cup games thus far, winning four times and scoring an impressive fifteen goals while conceding six. They played with flair and confidence in their last match against Kaloum but will need to be at their best yet again to claim anything here. Leopards have won all three of their home games during CAF competition this year and will make conditions difficult for the South Africans. The draw looks the best bet.