Win for Pirates against Esperance will have SA clubs sitting pretty

Milutin Sredojevic, coach of Orlando Pirates.
Milutin Sredojevic, coach of Orlando Pirates.
Image: Muzi Ntombela/ BACKPAGE PIX

Orlando Pirates can have the South African flag flying higher than ever in the Caf Champions League group stages if they can beat defending champions Esperance de Tunis at Orlando Stadium on Saturday night (kickoff 9pm).

In Group A‚ 2016 champions Mamelodi Sundowns have wrested control with two excellent wins in a row.

The Brazilians followed up a 2-1 home victory against Wydad Casablanca with Friday night’s 3-1 win against Asec Abidjan at Loftus Versfeld where the score could have been far higher.

Pirates top Group B on goal difference from Esperance. They can take control of the group at its halfway stage if they can beat the crack Tunisian three-time Champions League winners in Orlando.

Pirates’ army of boffins in their technical team bolstering head coach Milutin Sredojevic have taken a contrasting approach to the rigours of competing in continental football to that of Downs counterpart Pitso Mosimane.

Mosimane is loath to rotate players. He asks his charges to walk through walls‚ and with a Champions League‚ three league‚ and two cup titles in five years‚ they have responded for him.

Pirates‚ less sure of themselves as Sredojevic and his assistants – Rulani Mokwena and now also Fadlu Davids – try to reverse an almost five-season trophyless spell‚ have rotated. Perhaps it has been to the detriment of results‚ though.

It is easy to recognise Sundowns’ strongest lineup‚ with just a player rested here and there on occasion on advice from the conditioning staff.

And their best XI has an almost invincible air to it‚ even in this rebuilding season for Mosimane.

It is nowhere near as easy to recognise Pirates’ best XI.

Sredojevic has said that when they do make changes‚ Bucs try to limit them to three players to not destabilise continuity. But Bucs in their last three matches made six changes from beating Horoya to a 1-1 home league draw against Baroka FC‚ then a further five for their Nedbank Cup last-32 defeat on penalties against Black Leopards in Thohoyandou.

Sredojevic said resting players‚ and widening the talent pool for the Champions League group phase‚ plus some injuries‚ were the reason‚ especially for a mixed-strength team fielded against Baroka.

“We were looking‚ due to exhaustion‚ at our Champions League [programme]‚ to have a balance‚ and without some players who were injured‚” he said.

“We were looking to have some adequate replacements in that regard.

“The players who played the other day [against Baroka] were widening the pool of competitive players.

“We had a domination then and a domination again [against Leopards]‚ but unfortunately we could not cross that line and achieve the result.”

Even Mosimane‚ though‚ has commented that so many changes could be affecting Pirates’ results.

Bucs‚ though‚ are sure to have their strongest lineup – if they can figure out exactly what that is – out against Esperance.

The Tunisians were inspired winners of the 2018 final in November‚ overcoming a 3-1 away leg defeat‚ with contentious officiating‚ against Egyptian giants Al Ahly with a 3-0 home win for a 4-3 aggregate victory.

If Pirates can win on Saturday night‚ South Africa’s two clubs in the competition – the 2016 winners‚ and the 2013 finalists (Bucs) – will be sitting pretty for a potential meeting in the knockout phase.

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