Pirates take no chances for Congo clash

Orlando Pirates are hoping a chartered jet can help propel them into the CAF Champions League semifinals this weekend.

The Group A leaders are away to third-place AC Leopards of Congo-Brazzaville and maximum points will ensure a last-four spot.

A Pirates official confirmed the team will arrive on the eve of the Saturday fixture and return home the morning after the match.

Leopards play in Dolisie, 400km from capital Brazzaville on a poorly maintained road, and some previous visiting clubs have also complained of bad hotels and a hostile environment.

Using a chartered jet means the South Africans can fly direct to Dolisie and spend less than 24 hours there before the showdown.

The 1995 African titleholders know what a tough team Champions League debutants Leopards are after a 0-0 draw in Soweto last month.

But Pirates recovered to score a notable double over the two most successful clubs in the premier pan-African club football competition.

They inflicted a record African home defeat on defending champions Al-Ahly of Egypt by scoring three unanswered goals.

And they whipped another Cairo club, Zamalek, 4-1 in Soweto before losing the return match 2-1 in a 38°C Red Sea resort furnace.

Zamalek lost and Ahly won in Dolisie, the third biggest Congolese city, situated between Brazzaville and Atlantic oil hub Pointe-Noire.

Nigerian club Kano Pillars labelled Dolisie a “hell hole” after suffering a three-goal hiding there this year in a qualifier.

“Leopards denied us training facilities while their fans hurled missiles during the game and stole mobile phones from the dressing room.

“They also prevented our supporters gaining entry to the stadium on the day of match,” said Kano coach Mohammed Babaganaru.

An inability to cope with similar conditions in the past has often proved the undoing of mentally brittle South African footballers.

But Pirates appear to have grown stronger after a torrid time when eliminating TP Mazembe from the qualifiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Africa is a tough place,” conceded coach Roger de Sa. “You have to be streetwise, fight for every ball, and take your scoring chances.”

He will miss defenders Happy Jele and Thabo Matlaba, and midfielder Andile Jali through suspension.

And veteran Zambia striker Collins Mbesuma is injured, placing a heavy attacking burden on mid-year signing Lennox Bacela.

Only a win will keep afloat the slim semifinals hopes of Leopards, shock winners of the second-tier CAF Confederation Cup last year.

The Congolese have scored just twice in four games, putting pressure on captain Rudy Guelord Ndey-Bhebey and two-metre-tall Malian Arouna Drame.

Record seven-time champions Ahly, level with Pirates on seven points but behind on goal difference, host Zamalek on Sunday.

Organisers CAF have ordered the match in Red Sea resort El-Gouna be staged behind closed doors after Ahly fans fought each other there two weeks ago.

Zamalek share third place with Leopards on four points and a win would bring the White Knights back into contention for a top-two finish.


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