Pirates and Downs’ juggling skills tested again

2019-02-10 17:47

Orlando Pirates arrived at the Soweto derby yesterday with their luggage packed as they needed to head straight to the airport after the match to embark on a long-haul flight to Tunis in Tunisia.

Such has been the life for the Buccaneers as they continue to juggle their domestic and continental obligations.

Pirates will face Espérance Sportive de Tunis in a CAF Champions League group stage fixture at Stade Olympique d’El Menzeh in Tunis on Tuesday at 2pm.

The game will start just 72 hours after the Bucs’ clash with Kaizer Chiefs at FNB Stadium.

Like Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns also left almost immediately after their league game against Black Leopards midweek ahead of their game against Asec in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, scheduled for Tuesday at 4pm.

Pirates were to travel via Dubai en route to Tunis.

Bucs coach Milutin Sredojevic said: “We are having this match after being on the plane for 15 to 20 hours.

“We will reach there needing to recover and needing a last training session. It is not easy, but we are not crybabies. We shall find the formula to recover the team.

We are not supermen but human beings who need to improve.
Milutin Sredojevic

“We are fully aware that we are playing African champions away in conditions we are not familiar with. But bearing in mind that we are representing South Africa, we shall inject motivation to get the best possible result,” said the tactician known as Micho.

Pirates and Espérance yielded a goalless draw at Orlando Stadium last Saturday.

Sredojevic is adamant that the standings in Group B could have been different had Justin Shonga’s goal not been controversially disallowed and a penalty plea turned down after Thembinkosi Lorch was brought down inside the box.

“Instead of thinking about things behind us, we’d rather think about the road ahead,” said Micho.

He believes that landing the Champions League trophy could be a consolation after a dry domestic run that saw Pirates falling short in the Nedbank Cup, the Telkom Knockout and the MTN8 competitions.

“We are disappointed and frustrated that we reached the final of the Telkom, and we had two other cups [Nedbank Cup and MTN8] where we lost on penalties.

“It’s a reminder that we are not supermen, but human beings who need to improve.”

For Pirates’ midfielder Xola Mlambo, the hectic workload has provided valuable lessons.

“As professionals, you need to learn how to switch focus from one game to the other across the PSL and CAF inter-club competitions,” said the 27-year-old who, before yesterday’s match, had made 24 appearances in all competitions.

This includes four Champions League appearances.

“We’ve got a great technical staff. And the conditioning team is doing a great job in helping us to recover from the many games we are playing,” Mlambo said.

“I have not played all the games because the coaches try to rotate the team so that we have fresh legs for each game.”

The playmaker warned that it wouldn’t be easy in Tunis against a “tactically and a technically good” Espérance side.

Mlambo and Sredojevic said they had been inspired by Sundowns’ good run in Group A.

“It would be a great thing for South Africa to have two sides qualifying for the quarterfinals,” said the player from Soweto.

Micho said: “We believe that our group is much stronger, bearing in mind that Espérance are the champions and Horoya [a Guinean football club] ejected Sundowns last year. The road of Sundowns finishing first is open.

“With us, we are back in the Champions League group stage after six years, but we’ll stretch ourselves to do better,” he said.

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May 19 2019