JOHANNESBURG, February 2 – Following a disappointing exit from the Nedbank Cup, Orlando Pirates will look at returning to winning ways when they welcome defending African champions Tunisia’s Esperance on Saturday evening for a Caf Champions League Group B match at the Orlando Stadium (start 9pm).
This past weekend’s exit from the country’s Nedbank Cup means Pirates will not be involved in next season’s Caf Confederation Cup and their only hope of continental football next season will be for them to reach the final of the premier continental club competition.
A tricky assignment now looms for the Soweto giants as they prepare for a crunch tie with the North Africans who are tied on four points with the hosts after two matches following their 1-1 draw against AC Horoya before a 2-0 win against FC Platinum in Zimbabwe.
South African sides have generally struggled against their North African counterparts in Caf competitions. The recent heated match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Wydad Casablanca has certainly fuelled the North vs South rivalry even further.
As in previous seasons, Pirates have been on a rise, but seem to stumble at the very last hurdle.
Pirates made it to the Caf Champions League final back in 2013 where they fell short to eventual champions Al Ahly in the double-legged affair.
Two years later, they reached the final of the Caf Confederation Cup where they once again fell at the hands of another North African team in Tunisia’s Etoile du Sahel.
Now making a return to Champions League football after a six-year absence with an even stronger squad boasting the deadly Zambian duo of Augustine Mulenga and Justin Shonga, Pirates are aiming to conquer Africa under the stewardship of Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic.
Pirates players can draw from their mentor’s vast continental experience when coming up against tough opposition such as Esperance.
The 49-year-old, who will be crucial in calming his charges’ nerves when the going gets tough, knows that playing against the holders won’t be easy.
“We are taking on the defending champions of Africa’s biggest club competition. We respect their achievements on the continent, but we are Orlando Pirates and the star on our badge represents the same great achievement.
“It will be the meeting of two champion teams who know what the competition is about,” said a confident Micho.
The Serbian coach also stressed the importance of the team taking their chances against a quality side as Esperance, stressing that the away leg won’t be easy, and they need to get a result at home.
“We need to take advantage at home before going there because we are going into very cold conditions in Tunis. A win will certainly boost our chances in the group ahead of the return leg.”
The Buccaneers boast an impressive record at home and will be banking on such form to see them through against the highly-experienced African champions. (ANA)