Al-Ahly halfway there, Pirates to keep fighting

Posted by Firdose Moonda

Orlando Pirates fans GettyImagesOrlando Pirates fans celebrate the equaliser.

When Mohamed Aboutrika's free kick curled gorgeously into the top right corner of the net, with the delicacy and precision associated with the man throughout his career, Al-Ahly knew they were halfway there. The veteran striker took an emphatic bow on in front of his club's supporters -- many of whom had occupied a portion of the Orlando Stadium -- while Mohamed Youssef, the coach, kissed the turf in thanks.

Even when Thabo Matlaba snuck in the equaliser in stoppage time, finally getting one of Pirates' long-range shots to find the back of the net, the Egyptians remained halfway there. They don't need to do anything but hold the line in the return leg.

A goalless draw will ensure the CAF Champions League title stays in Cairo and any unanswered goals Al-Ahly manage along the way will only assist in that cause. If Pirates score once then the Egyptians will have to match them to send the tie into penalties; any more goals than that and the South Africans will deservedly earn their second star.

For the Pirates, it means they will have be much more penetrative than they were in the first leg, when they spent 90 minutes squandering chances and battling to break through Ahly's defences. They will also have to ensure they tighten up at the back because in their search for goals, as they showed on Saturday night, they are often found wanting at the other end.

Al-Ahly were able to to put pressure on Pirates almost every time they managed to win the ball and Youseff admitted his team identified the backline as one of Pirates' weaknesses. "We knew how to deal with them. They pile on pressure up front but leave gaps at the back, which we tried to expose through counter-attacks," he said.

Encouragingly for the Egyptians, Pirates have indicated they will not change anything. "To be honest we don't really have a defensive team. We don't really know how to play all at the back -- we play the way we play," midfielder Daine Klate said.

And that way, as Pirates showed when they were in Egypt for the group stage, can be profitable. Pirates beat Al-Ahly 3-0 during the group stage and the captain Wael Gomaa noted: "When they play out of their ground, they play better than at home." But he and his men have warned Pirates this time will be much more difficult.

When the two sides met earlier this year, the match was played in the Red Sea resort of El Gouna, more than 400 kilometres away from Al-Ahly's home city, in an empty in the month of Ramadan, in the middle of the afternoon in 45 degree heat. This time, the game will be played at the Air Defence Stadium and the military authorities have agreed to allow supporters into the ground.

They are hopeful the fans will serve the duel purpose of cheering the team on and creating and intimidating cauldron for Pirates to come out of. Already, Al-Ahly have tried to mess with their oppositions' asking for the match to be moved to Sunday so they could have an extra days' rest.

The South Africans are not letting the mind-games get to them. "They can take us wherever they want, a good field, a bad field, keep on changing the venue, the game from Saturday to Sunday -- whatever blows their hair back. We just have to be ready for whatever," Daine Klate, the Pirates midfielder said.

He harked back to the way Pirates responded in Lubumbashi when TP Mazembe tried their best to unsettle them, with acts including kicking the South African cameramen out of the ground. Senzo Meyiwa saved two penalties in that match and even though Pirates lost 1-0, they were able to hold on to their aggregate advantage.

Klate said the performance in the DRC will serve as inspiration for Cairo but coach Roger De Sa was less philosophical. He just wants them to play like they did on Saturday and if it brings the same result, then Pirates will have secured the trophy of the continent.

"In the first leg, I couldn't ask for more," De Sa said. "We kept on trying, kept our patience, didn't just play long balls and kick and pray.We controlled the game. We showed character and kept fighting to the last minute.We're in with a fighting chance. I know it's going to be very difficult -- there's no doubt about it. But we'll certainly have a go."


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