Tunis is a tough night to crack for Bucs

The jazz standard A Night in Tunisia makes one wonder what could have happened that night in 1942 in that northern African country for trumpet maestro Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli to pen a piece that has endured changes of music styles and eras in music, as well as inspired other greats to try their hand at it.

Whatever it was that inspired these musicians to write or record the song, Orlando Pirates might have their own version of A Night in Tunisia to remember.

Pirates take on the pride of that country, Esperance, in the capital city Tunis on Saturday evening in the second leg of the CAF Champions League semifinals. The first round in Soweto ended in a goalless draw, making this night in Tunisia a decisive one for all involved.

Esperance's Maher Kanzari decried the outcome of the night in Johannesburg as "a very bad result", but sensibly added: "We have to think about how to deal with them. The two teams are still with a 50% chance, and the chances are the same." Maher's counterpart at Pirates, Roger De Sa, agreed: "I'm content. If we score an away goal, we have a chance. 0-0 is better than 1-1 at home. It's an open game now."

An open game it must be with the night in Tunis being the one that will determine whether the host's quest for the third continental championship continues, or whether De Sa's charges can keep club boss Irvin Khoza's dream for a second gold star on top of their badge alive.

A goalless stalemate in Tunis will mean that the teams will have to settle things from the penalty spot. A draw with goals means Pirates will face the winner of the Al Ahly-Coton Sport fixture in the finals pencilled in for November.

Conventional wisdom would have it that Pirates are disadvantaged going into the cauldron that is the Stade Olympique de Radès, teeming with 25 000 devotees (the club has opted not to use all 65 000 seats at the ground for security reasons).

Closer inspection, though, will suggest that Pirates have played better against clubs coming at them than against those who parked the bus, with the Telkom Cup first-round tie against Mpumalanga Black Aces, which they won 3-1, and the encounter against rookies Polokwane City, in which the Buccaneers laboured to a 1-0 win, being two cases in point.

Pirates' best results in the group stages, the 3-0 and 4-1 wins over Al Ahly and Zamalek away and at home respectively, were as much a result of Pirates' boldness on the occasion as it was about the confident mentality of the two Egyptian clubs.

In Brazzaville, Pirates were defeated by a pitch more suited to quad-biking than football by AC Léopards' superior abilities.

In Tunis they will be up against a club that cannot help but take the game to their opponents with the hope that the fans make conditions as psychologically uncomfortable as possible. Esperance showed in Johannesburg that they are a disciplined outfit able to play for the outcome they had in mind before the game.

In front of their home crowd, the likes of Ghanaian international Harrison Afful, who frequently showed signs of impatience with the restrained approach, and striker Joseph N'djeng-N'djeng, who missed a glorious opportunity early in the game, might just want to flourish.

​If De Sa has given a hint of how he will approach the match it would be that he allowed Kermit Erasmus to join the Bafana Bafana trip to Morocco last week despite Bucs' tough clash against Aces. De Sa played almost the same side that played against Esperance the weekend before, suggesting that he was going for improved chemistry and telepathy rather than resting a few tired legs.

In the Aces match, Pirates varied their play and, instead of the one touch, patient build-up that has characterised their game of late, they were given to bursts of sudden speed, leaving the opposition bewildered. Oupa Manyisa's goal in the dying minutes of the match perfectly summmed up this evolution in Bucs' style.

Another new dimension in Pirates' approach has been to bring Mpho Makola between the defensive midfielders and the main striker, giving the former Free State Stars man the role he was more familiar with and devastatingly effective in at his former club.

The injury to Siyabonga Sangweni and De Sa's decision to leave captain Lucky Lekgwathi at home means that Bucs might have some problems containing the Esperance strikers.

If Esperance start as the Tunisian national side – of which they contributed five players – did against Cameroon, Pirates can expect to be on the ropes from very early on.

Ayanda Gcaba will have to step into the central defence alongside Rooi Mahamutsa and they will have to be at their best, especially when flanked by the likes of Happy Jele, who tends to lose concentration at crucial times, and Thabo Matlaba, whose penchant for spectacular goals tends to see him neglect his defensive duties.

Pirates will also have to avoid the worrisome trait of conceding penalties when on the road. They have conceded four so far: two in Lubumbashi against TP Mazembe and one each against the Egyptian giants. Senzo Meyiwa, who saved three of those spot kicks, will not always be up for the job, as was demonstrated in the MTN8 finals, where Pirates lost to Platinum Stars on penalties.

It has become almost hackneyed that every match Pirates have played up to now has had a sense of now or never. This Saturday's Night in Tunisia again lends itself to such language, and for De Sa and company to prepare their own interpretation of the great classic.

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