Pirates need a cup run

Traditionally, Orlando Pirates have not done well in knockout cup competitions — but how long can their fans go on without any trophies?

The last time the Buccaneers won a competitive cup was the BP Top 8 in 2000. That competition has been replaced by the SAA Supa 8, which kicks off this weekend.

The eight Premier Soccer League (PSL) teams that qualified have the chance to recoup the money they spent on new players in the off-season by winning just three games as there is R1,3-million on offer to the winners. The Buccaneers can begin their redemption against Silver Stars on Saturday in Durban.

In the off-season, Pirates managed to win the Vodacom Challenge and displayed the qualities of a team hungry to win more silverware. Their fans will expect nothing more than a victory against Silver Stars.

On Wednesday night at Ellis Park Pirates showed why they deserve to be on top in the early days of the premiership when they walloped Bloemfontein Celtic 3-0.

A variety of factors make Pirates strong contenders for the Supa 8. Firstly, coach Kostadin Papic has gained quality and experienced players. Secondly, their new strikers are hungry for goals. The Buccaneers also play as a unit and are not dependent on certain players.

Yet another thing going for Pirates is that the core of their squad has been reinforced, while other teams have had to build from scratch.

Looking at recent games, many PSL outfits would be happy to field just some of the talent on the Pirates substitutes’ bench. With such depth in their squad Pirates should at least this season walk away with one of the domestic cups.

Pirates boast a lot of international players, such as Benedict Vilakazi, Francis Chansa, Lelo Mbele, Davis Mwape, Perry Mutapa, Onyekachi Okonkwo and Gift Leremi.

Most of these players will have extra motivation to play well as next year is an African Cup of Nations and World Cup year. With most of the African qualifying groups still very tight, many international coaches will be looking for players who are in a successful groove for the remaining qualifying games as well as the big tournaments.

Midfielder Okonkwo provides the Buccaneer ship with some stability and shape and this could be the season the Nigerian shows his class.

Fans’ favourite Steve Lekoelea — who has often rescued the team from some tricky situations with his trademark free kicks — just needs some consistency to go with the flair he has shown over so many seasons.

With a solid defence, a midfield to die for and two of the most lethal strikers in the premiership, things can only get better for the Orlando team. The single worrying factor remains right at the back, where a lack of cover for goalkeeper Chansa could spell disaster if he gets injured.

So much talent can cause its own problems and Papic might find that his biggest challenges are in the areas of man-management and finding the best combinations for each match. It is the sort of problem that most other PSL coaches would love to face this season.

All Papic has to do is get the club to be consistent and the results will come. Winning the league title from arch-rivals Kaizer Chiefs would be sweet revenge after last season’s implosion, and a few good cup runs will aid the side’s confidence.

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