Pirates into Champs League final

21 October 2013

South African club Orlando Pirates won through to the final of the Confederation of African Football’s Champions League after holding Tunisian powerhouse Esperance to a 1-1 draw at the Olympic Stadium in Rades on Saturday night.

With the teams having shared a goalless draw in Soweto, Johannesburg, the Buccaneers progressed to the two-leg title decider on the away goals rule.

It was a huge result for the South Africans as Esperance had reached the last three Caf Champions League finals, winning in 2011 and finishing as runners-up in 2010 and 2012.

Pirates previously missed out on the Champions League final to Tunisian opposition in 2006, going down 0-1 to CS Sfaxien after the two-leg clash.

1995 winners

Pirates are the only South African team to have previously reached the Caf Champions League final. In 1995, they lifted the title after playing to a 2-2 draw with Asec Abidjan in Johannesburg and then scoring a 1-0 win away from home.

Pirates will face Al Ahly for the 2013 title, with the teams meeting in Soweto on 2 November, followed by the second leg in Cairo on 9 November.

The Egyptians shaded Coton Sport of Cameroon to secure their place in the final, with the clubs drawing both semi-final matches 1-1 before Al Ahly advanced 7-6 from the penalty spot.

Victory in Cairo

While the Egyptians held Pirates to a goalless draw in Soweto on 22 September, the Buccaneers will go into the final with confidence, knowing they won their away game in Cairo by three goals to nil on 4 August.

“This is a proud moment for the Premier Soccer League (PSL) when one of its members achieves such a milestone,” PSL CEO Brand de Villiers said in a statement on Sunday.

“We would like to congratulate Orlando Pirates’ management, technical staff and players for reaching the final of the Champions League and I would also like to invite the football family in the country to join me as we wish them the best of luck when they play in the Caf Champions League final.

“Considering what has happened in the past where our teams have dropped out in the early stages of the Champions League, as a country we must draw lessons from Pirates’ campaign and build a strong case for our teams to dominate at inter- continental club competitions,” De Villiers said.

Hostile environment

On Saturday night, the South African team gave as good as it got in a hostile environment, which included goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa having to deal with having a laser shone in his eyes.

Esperance enjoyed the better of the early going, but Pirates gradually worked their way into the game and almost snatched the lead after a swift counter-attack. Tlou Segolela was put through on goal in the 18th minute, but he opted for a pass instead of a shot and the home team kept the score at nil-nil.

Segolela then caused Moez Ben Cherifa problems with a shot at the goalkeeper’s near post.

Narrow miss

The Blood and Gold narrowly missed out on taking the lead when Meyiwa struggled to deal with a long range effort from Houcine Ragued, with the ball bouncing up and off the crossbar for a corner.

Meyiwa also needed to grab a rebound of a block he made of a free kick, just ahead of Harrison Aful, who was looking to snap up the goalie’s bobble.

Four minutes into the second half, Pirates almost hit the front, but Daine Klate’s header of a Segolela cross was superbly kept out by Ben Cherifa.

Lead

Shortly after that, however, the Buccaneers grabbed the lead. Segolela found Rooi Mahamutsa with a free kick and the defender found the back of the net with a header to put Pirates in front. With an away goal to their credit, it effectively meant Esperance would have to score at least twice to advance to the final.

The Tunisians, though, found an equaliser within three minutes when substitute Iheb Msakni steered Youcef Belaili’s cross from the right past Meyiwa to up the tension once more.

Happy Jele squandered a wonderful opportunity to score a second for the Sea Robbers when he got onto the end of a teasing cross from Segolela in the 58th minute, but his header struck a post and the scores remained level at 1-1.

Esperance fought hard to find a late winner, but Pirates had an answer to every question the home team posed.