Johannesburg - South Africans are banking on Orlando Pirates
to win the CAF Confederation Cup final against Etoile Sahel of Tunisia and end
a 14-year African club trophy drought for the republic.
Orlando Stadium in Soweto hosts the first leg of the
second-tier competition decider this Saturday with the return match next Sunday
at Stade Olympique in Mediterranean resort Sousse.
Kaizer Chiefs, the arch domestic rivals of Pirates, were the
last South African winners of a CAF competition, defeating InterClube of Angola
in the 2001 final of the now defunct African Cup Winners Cup.
In the mid-1990s, Pirates lifted the African Cup of
Champions Clubs (now CAF Champions League) and the CAF Super Cup.
But since Chiefs' success only the Buccaneers have come
close to halting the barren spell, losing the 2013 Champions League final to
the most successful club in CAF competitions, 19-title Al Ahly of Egypt.
A lack of passion in often hostile environments is among the
reasons for the lack of success by South African clubs, with many fielding
understrength sides and making early exits.
Accustomed to relatively high living standards, South
African footballers regularly struggle to cope with more basic travel
conditions, accommodation, food, training facilities and hard, bumpy pitches
with grass-less patches.
Also read: Troubled Sfaxien must sink Pirates in CAF Cup
Pirates have been a notable exception and long-serving club
chairman Irvin Khoza recently urged other South African clubs to treat CAF
competitions more seriously.
Domestic opponents have hailed coach Eric Tinkler and his
Buccaneers in a rare show of unity among bitter rivals for the riches that
South African football offers.
"This is a massive final for South Africa, and not just
Pirates," Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane told reporters.
"Pirates are the biggest team in South Africa when it
comes to continental football. The rest of us need to copy the good things they
"The Buccaneers are not afraid of any rivals, they do
not respect any opponents, and they play to win, home and away."
Former South Africa striker and coach Mosimane said the 4-3
semi-final victory over title-holders Ahly in Egypt was an amazing achievement.
"To score four goals away to the winners of a record 19
CAF titles, the team voted the best in Africa during the last century, was
Tinkler, a bone-hard midfield enforcer in the South Africa
1996 Africa Cup of Nations-winning team, dreams of performances similar to that
which floored Ahly.
"If we perform as we did against Ahly we can win the
trophy," said the 45-year-old. "Etoile are strong at home but not
good travellers, and we need to take advantage of that."
Pirates, who also won the first leg against Ahly in Soweto,
confounded pundits by becoming the first South African qualifiers for the final
of a 12-year competition that North African clubs have won eight times.
Strikers Kermit Erasmus and Thamsanqa Gabuza have impressed
in Africa this year, claiming five goals each to be among the second highest
scorers in the Confederation Cup.
But as much as Tinkler wants goals, he constantly stresses
the need to keep a clean sheet against Etoile, a feat Pirates have managed in
four of seven home matches en route to the final.
Like Pirates, Sahel collected their first CAF trophy in
1995, but there the similarity ends with the Red Devils featuring in another 14
African finals and winning seven.
The Etoile squad that arrived in Johannesburg by chartered
jet is packed with experience and includes 16 Tunisians plus an Algerian, a Brazilian,
a Cameroonian and a Nigerian.
Algerian striker Baghdad Bounedjah, on loan from a Qatari
club, will need particularly close attention as his six goals make him the
co-leader of the Confederation Cup scoring charts.
A concern for 65-year-old coach Faouzi Benzarti -- in his
fifth spell at Etoile -- is a muscle injury to goalkeeper and captain Aymen
Mathlouthi, who faces a late fitness test.
The overall winners receive $660,000 (615,000 euros) and
qualify for a one-off Super Cup match against Champions League winners TP
Mazembe in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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