Pirates fall short in Champions League final

10 November 2013

Orlando Pirates gave it their all against defending champions Al Ahly, but a 0-2 loss in Cairo on Sunday evening left them 1-3 losers on aggregate in the final of the Confederation of African Football (Caf) Champions League and the Egyptians African champions for a record eighth time.

The South Africans created some gilt-edged goal scoring chances, but some indifferent finishing and the Eagles greater experience of the big occasion made the difference in the contest.

The Buccaneers were by no means overawed or outplayed and on another day might have got the result they were seeking, but getting the ball into the opposition’s net is the name of the game and Pirates failed to do that.

They nonetheless enjoyed a fantastic run to the final and overcome some stiff hurdles to memorably defeat TP Mazembe and Esperance. Their results also included a 3-0 win over Al Ahly in Cairo.

Bright start

With the Egyptian giants having scored an away goal in a 1-1 draw in Soweto in the first leg, Pirates knew they needed to score at least a goal away from home to be in with a shot at the title and this led to a bright start from the men in black and white.

Play was a little scrappy in the beginning, however, with both teams giving up possession a little too easily as they attempted to catch out the other with long balls. Although it was an away game for the Sea Robbers, they weren’t sitting back and were taking the game to the Egyptians. The South African side’s forwards were doing a good job of putting pressure on the Al Ahly defenders when the home side had possession.

In the 8th minute, Pirates had the first decent opportunity of the match when they were awarded a free kick about 10 metres outside the box after Sifiso Myeni was brought down. Daine Klate, though, fired in a left-footed shot at about waist- height, making it was easy for goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy to deal with.

Flying header

After a quarter-of-an-hour, Mohamed Naguib got onto the end of a teasing cross from the left. He met the ball with a flying header, but his effort flew to the left of Senzo Meyiwa’s goal. It was, nonetheless, Al Ahly’s best chance in the early going.

Ahmed Fathi then made a fine run from the back, beating a number of attempted tackles before finding Abdellah Said at the far post. The pass had just a little too much on it, however, and Said couldn’t bring it around to challenge Meyiwa.

Pirates came close to finding a breakthrough in the 20th minute, but Ekramy flew off his line to block Tlou Segolela’s low shot from close range after the winger had cut in from the right to pick up a defence-splitting pass.

Palmed behind

Meyiwa was tested shortly afterwards by Ahmed Abdelzaher, who fired from long distance, forcing the Pirates’ net-minder to palm the ball high and behind for a corner.

Myeni, whose direct running made the defenders look uncomfortable, won another free kick outside of the Buccaneers’ box after 28 minutes. Oupa Manyisa tried his luck from distance, but was off target and Ekramy went untested.

Thabo Matlaba blasted a powerful shot at the goalkeeper from a long way out after a sharp spin and turn, but Ekramy was able to get his body behind the ball and comfortably catch it.

Should have scored

Segolela should have scored and given Pirates the lead when Klate picked him out with a cross to the far post from the left, but he mistimed his jump, with an open goal in front of him, and his header from only a few metres out failed to find the mark.

Two minutes from the break, Meyiwa had to rush off his line to close down Abdelzaher, who appeared to have an open shot on goal.

As the break neared, Al Ahly were flopping about like fish around the Pirates’ box as they attempted to win a free kick from the referee, but time after time he turned their protests down. Half-time arrived and a small melee followed the whistle before the teams left the field with the score still goalless, but the game far from short of action.

Early in the second half, a back pass by Al Ahly forced Ekramy to sprint outside his box and clear to prevent Lennox Bacela snapping up the poorly judged ball.

Goal

In the 54th minute Al Ahly hit the front after Abdellah Said shot from outside the Pirates’ box. The ball deflected off of a defender and fell to Mohamed Aboutrika, who poked it past Meyiwa. The crowd went wild and fireworks filed the Cairo night. It was a somewhat fortuitous strike, but the chance had fallen to the Egyptians’ talisman and he had made it count.

On the hour mark, Klate forced an untidy save out of Ekramy with a swerving, long range effort that bounced just in front of the goalkeeper.

Bacela then missed an excellent opportunity to level matters. After being played in down the middle of the box, he beat the goalkeeper to his right, but his snap shot then flew across the face of goal. The crowd breathed a collective sigh of relief. Another good chance had fallen to the Sea Robbers and been spurned.

Abdelzaher fired off a shot after Aboutrika headed on from a goal kick, but his effort flew wide to the left of Meyiwa’s goal. Still, it warned the Buccaneers that they needed to be wary at the back while they went in search of an equaliser.

Doubled their advantage

In the 78th minute Al Ahly doubled their advantage. The goal was scored by Abdelzaher, who side-footed it home after a mishit shot from the right by Ahmed Fathi sliced across the Pirates’ defenders to Abdelzaher on the left of the box. Taking his chance, he hit it first time and Meyiwa was beaten for a second time on the night.

Refusing to lie down, the Sea Robbers took the game to the Egyptian giants, but the home team’s defence continued to hold firm.

With only eight minutes remaining, Sherif Abdel-Fadil, who had been shown a yellow card earlier in the contest, was shown a red card for a second foul after a reckless challenge which took out Klate in the air. Al Ahly were down to 10 men.

It did not cost them despite four minutes of additional time being played. They effectively ran down the clock, even creating a few more goal scoring chances, and came away three-one winners on aggregate.