At the time of writing – on Wednesday morning – Pirates boss Irvin Khoza was having a meeting with the team, and the Iron Duke was forthright, telling his players to “Go out and make history” and adding: “Good luck”.
They will need it ...
It is often said that it is not how you start but how you finish. However, in Pirates’ case it could be rephrased to: ‘You get credit for what you finish, not what you start’.
The 1995 African champions have been punching above their weight in the CAF Champions League, despite a couple of defeats in a row. The loss to Zamalek followed by another defeat to Congo’s AC Leopards has put Pirates in a precarious position in Group A of Africa’s premium club competition.
Most importantly, however, it is still very much in their own hands. To ensure they reach the semi-finals, Pirates must beat Al Ahly at home on Sunday to top the group. Anything other than victory could put paid to their dream to conquer Africa.
A draw may be enough, but that depends on the outcome of the match between Zamalek and AC Leopards, and with Zamalek already out of the running, Leopards will fancy their chances.
As Pirates coach Roger de Sa put it after Bucs slayed Zamalek 4-1 at Orlando Stadium last month: “Yes, we have won. But we haven't won anything yet.”
With this in mind, failing to reach the semis will undo all Pirates’ hard work; from eliminating TP Mazembe against all odds to getting the better of Al Ahly away and Zamalek at home. After all, history only remembers the winners.
Bucs are one step away from the Final, but they still have to play Kaizer Chiefs – their arch-rivals – and it goes without saying that the second leg will be a gruelling affair.
Chiefs are trailing 1-0 and they will be out of their blocks from the first whistle to try to level matters and take it from there. Pirates have their tails up with the 1-0 cushion but, as they say, it is not over until the fat lady sings and this is surely weighing heavily on the Bucs players’ minds.
It is still early days, but Pirates are already on the back foot if you consider the fact that they have to play catch-up.
The other 15 teams are on four or five matches already and Bucs, the 2010/11 and 2011/12 champions, have played just a single match – a home loss to AmaZulu early in August.
To make matters worse, they will play just one League match in September, at home to Polokwane City tonight at Orlando Stadium, and only two in October – against University of Pretoria on October 23 and Kaizer Chiefs on October 26.
Between February and May this year, Pirates had to play catch-up after kicking off their CAF Champions League campaign against Djabal FC from the Comoros on February 16. Bucs’ assistant coach Teboho Moloi admitted to Business Day last month that their situation in the past season contributed to the team losing all their trophies, including the coveted League title.
He said: “It was unfortunate that last season we played catch-up using players that we had just signed. And I can use Mpho Makola and Khethokwakhe Masuku as examples. They were still being introduced to the way we play and it took time, but we had to win games to catch up.”
In the end, Pirates walked away empty handed. So when they take on the Premiership whipping boys, Polokwane City, it will be interesting to see whether they do so with their best XI or with their fringe players, because of the two big games coming up.
However, De Sa says Bucs must collect maximum points, regardless of the team he selects on the day.