Bucs carrying the SA flag high on the continent

ORLANDO Pirates are a team on a mission, firmly determined to add a second star to the club badge.

1995 is a very special year for Pirates, it’s the year the Buccaneers etched their name alongside the greats of African club football by winning the Champions League, the only South African club to have achieved that honour.

The 1995 squad included legends such as Jerry Sikhosana, Helman Mkhalele, Marks Maponyane, Mark Fish, John Moeti, Williams Okpara and Edward Motale, players and men of character, who gave the side the steel, grit and determination needed to succeed on the continent.

The harder the mission, the more fight the team brought to the battlefield as they visited uncompromising places like Nigeria, Gabon and Uganda on route to an unforgettable two-legged final against Ivorian giants ASEC Abidjan.

The first leg, played in South Africa, ended in a 2-2 draw, leaving many thinking it was a forgone conclusion that Abidjan would stroll through to victory back in the Ivory Coast.

But the Sea Robbers were to spoil the party in west Africa as bodies were thrown on the line to keep their opponents off the score-sheet, before Jerry Sikhosana grabbed a dramatic late winner.

Now 18 years later, Pirates are sitting with a realistic chance of making it at least as far as the semi-finals.

So far their excursions into Africa have in some ways mirrored the winning campaign of 1995: Bucs have shown huge character and fight to overcome the various obstacles thrown in their path when playing away on the continent.

The preliminary round was straightforward enough, Bucs beating Comoros outfit Djabal Club 9-0 over two games.

Their 3-1 aggregate win over Zanaco (1-0 away, 2-1 at home) was a mission professionally carried out; the business was taken care of against the best team from one Africa’s stronger footballing nations.

It was however the second round aggregate victory over TP Mazembe, one of Africa’s giants, that really saw the belief starting to build within the Bucs squad. Suddenly there was talk again that perhaps 2013 could be Pirates’ year.

It was a victory of epic proportions. TP Mazembe, who have won the Champion League four times, including as recently as 2009 and 2010, were heavy favourites and not too many people outside of South Africa expected to see them making an early exit.

But a 3-1 win at the Orlando Stadium, thanks to goals from Onyekachi Okonkwo and a Collins Mbesuma brace, gave the Soweto side a fighting chance.

There were doubts however if this would be enough to make it through the second match in Lubumbashi, where Pirates were to find themselves as very unwelcome guests, judging by the treatment they received.

But many of the Pirates players, including penalty-saving hero Senzo Meyiwa, who saved two spot kicks, had the games of their lives as the team managed to restrict the hosts to a 1-0 win, which was enough to see Pirates through to the group stages. This despite having skipper Lucky Lekgwathi sent off for a very debatable red card.

The Buccaneers ‘reward’ for making it through the first couple of rounds was to find themselves drawn alongside seven-time Champions League winners Ah Ahly. Fellow Egyptian giants Zamalek, who have lifted the continental trophy five times, and AC_Léopards (Congo), who won the CAF Confederation Cup in 2012, made up what was certainly seem as the group of death.

Bucs got off to a tentative start with a 0-0 stalemate at home with Leopards. But when faced with the seemingly impossible task of taking anything from their trip to play Ah Ahly just under two weeks ago, they came up trumps.

Amabhakabhaka outdid even their achievements of Lubumbashi, recording an emphatic 3-0 away in Egypt, thanks to goals from Thandani Ntshumayelo, Andile Jali and Sifiso Myeni, and another penalty save by Meyiwa.

The result leaves Pirates on four points from two games, with AC_Léopards behind them on goal difference. The two Egyptian sides have a point each.

Pirates’ next game is on Saturday night, when they host Zamalek at the Orlando Stadium. They are away to Zamalek on September 1, travel to AC_Léopards on September 14 before ending with a home tie against Ah Ahly on September 21.-www.psl.co.za



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