Orlando Pirates’ recent victory in the MTN8 final has not only delivered the first knockout trophy to the club in a decade, but it has also served to kick-start Bucs’ Absa Premiership title campaign.
But while Bucs are basking in the glory of winning their first knockout trophy in 10 years, they face their moment of truth as regards their potential to challenge for the championship when they face unbeaten log leaders Mamelodi Sundowns in what promises to be a fiery Premiership clash at the Lucas Moripe Stadium (Super Stadium) on Saturday. Kick-off is at 3.30pm.
Downs have maximum 12 points from their four matches while Pirates have had a slower start to the season with five points (one win and two draws) from their three matches played.
Bucs go into this early season test minus midfield kingpin Isaac Chansa, who is suspended. The Zambian international star collected his third yellow card, helping Bucs defeat Moroka Swallows 4-2 on a penalty shootout to lift the MTN 8 final in Durban on October 2.
“It is a blow losing Chansa but we have other top-class midfielders in the wings such as Mark Mayambela, Teko Modise and Clifford Ngobeni who can fit into Chansa’s midfield slot,” said Pirates spokesperson Mickey Modisane.
Pirates head coach Ruud Krol might be tempted to recall Modise to action after the midfielder missed Bucs’ last two matches, including the final, after Modise helped Bafana Bafana to a gutsy 0-0 draw against Sierra Leone in a crunch African Nations Cup qualifier at the weekend. Modise played the full 90 minutes and was praised by Bafana head coach Pitso Mosimane.
‘We are now the team to beat’
The Brazilians have looked the team to beat this season.
But not according to Modisane: “We are now the team to beat. Winning the MTN8 was a brilliant mental boost for the whole club and has brought back the confidence to the players and showed they have the ability to win big trophies.
“A win over Sundowns would set the platform and reinforce the self-belief that has flooded into the team after the MTN8 victory.
“Although the league is a marathon, it is important to set an early pace and if we can take three points from Downs we will have sent out a warning loud and clear that Pirates are not going to be satisfied until they win the league.”
Winning the top eight cup has also taken the pressure off Krol. Now that he is free of the fans wanting his blood for failing to deliver a trophy, the former Dutch captain can focus and set his sights firmly on the league.
Sundowns’ new coach, Antonia Lopez Habas, who will be named Premiership Coach of the Month on Wednesday, has hit the ground running since he took over from unpopular Bulgarian Hristo Stoitchkov and has been able to successfully bond with his players and get the best out of them in the early season.
Pirates have been fortunate in that they have been in action up until last weekend when they won the top eight trophy while Downs have not kicked a ball for nearly a month and that layoff, because of the MTN8 and the Fifa calendar date last weekend, could see Downs lose their early season rhythm and open the door for Pirates to end the Brazilians’ perfect start to their Premiership season. — Sapa