Red Devils too hot for Pirates

23 July 2008

In front of a festive crowd, Manchester United overcame a combative Orlando Pirates 1-0 at the Absa Stadium in Durban on Tuesday evening, leaving the Buccaneers with a tough path to the final of the Vodacom Challenge in Pretoria on Saturday.

After the Red Devils drew 1-1 with Kaizer Chiefs on the weekend and then beat Pirates, Pirates know they will need to beat Chiefs, not draw, when the Soweto rivals meet in Port Elizabeth on Thursday to determine who will face Manchester United for the silverware.

Buccaneers’ coach Rudi Krol surprisingly opted to give some of his leading players a rest in Durban; he must rate Pirates’ chances of beating Chiefs on Thursday. Sir Alex Ferguson also gave some of his star players a break, but kept them on the bench.

Seized the initiative

Early on, the missing stars from the Soweto club’s line-up showed as United seized the initiative. Only after the Sea Robbers had fallen behind did they begin to find their way, but shoddy finishing meant they couldn’t make up the deficit.

The first chance of the contest went the way of Manchester United when a corner found Red Devils’ central defender John Evans, but his header was too high and passed over the crossbar.

Left winger Lee Martin then tested goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa with a shot low to the keeper’s right. Carlos Tevez was next to ask questions of Meyiwa.

Goal

Then, after 22 minutes, Frazier Campbell set Martin up with another chance by heading the ball into his path. Under pressure from Happy Jele, Martin kept his cool and chipped over Meyiwa, as the goalkeeper tried to cut down the angle, to put United in front.

Meyiwa had to come off his line quickly shortly afterwards, but this time he was successful, preventing Campbell from getting a shot in.

Shortly before the break, United looked hard done by when they were denied a penalty by the referee Cornelius Mwanza after Martin, who caused Pirates plenty of problems down the left, was taken down in the penalty area by Lucas Thwala.

Rio Ferdinand’s vociferous appeals for the spot kick earned him a yellow card and the English champions had to settle for a corner kick.

Half-time

Pirates would have gone into the break with some relief as United had enjoyed far more opportunities, with the Buccaneers mustering just a single shot on goal in the first half.

After halftime, however, the Soweto club lifted their game and created the first chance of the second half. It was a good one. Tlou Segolela was set free by a long ball, which allowed him to get behind the United defence. His shot, though, lacked control and composure and he failed to find the target.

Oohs and aahs

Lebohang Mothibantwa drew some oohs and aahs from the crowd with a powerful long-range effort that forced Red Devils’ net-minder Ben Foster to knock the ball over the crossbar for a corner.

Joseph Makhanya then tested Foster with a blistering shot, but the United man was up to the challenge.

At the other end of the field, Paul Scholes, on as a substitute, brought a good save out of Meyiwa before Jele forced Foster to fist way a strong shot.

Pirates versus Chiefs

Based on the evidence of Manchester United’s two games so far, Chiefs should be favoured when they take on Pirates on Thursday. They matched up better against the European club champions than their great rivals, but.derby matches are never as simple to predict as taking a cursory glance at form.

After all, Manchester City did the double over United last season. United finished it as the English Premier League and Uefa Champions League title-holders. City ended ninth and manager Sven Goran Eriksson was fired.

Also, one wonders how much one should be read into Pirates’ performance when coach Krol opted to sit his leading players.

Should they fail to get the better of Chiefs in Port Elizabeth, that decision could come back to haunt him because he would have taken on one of the world’s leading club sides without giving his best team a chance of lowering United’s colours.

The only way for Krol to avoid the second-guessing is for Pirates to make the final and tackle Sir Alex Ferguson’s charges for a second time.

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