“It is the supreme test for Pirates against the most consistent team in Africa and we are looking forward to the challenge with eager expectation,” De Sa said. “There is so much at stake for not only the club, but South African soccer as a whole, if we can annex Africa’s most prized club trophy for a second time.”
Winners 18 years ago and still the only South African club to have won the Champions League, Pirates were indeed in a position to provide a timely soccer boost for a country blighted by disappointments at both national and club level in recent years.
Tunisian international striker Oussama Darragi had been singled out as a potent goalscorer and the major danger for Pirates, with international teammates Mouelhi Khaled, Mejdi Traoui, Chemman Khalil and Hichri Walid bolstering the defence and midfield.
Top Algerian internationals Anther Yahia and Youcef Belaili completed the international representation in a well-organised and professional line-up. Pirates’ prospects had been boosted by Sifiso Myeni passing a late fitness test after earlier being proclaimed a doubtful starter because of a groin strain.
But there was an aura of uneasiness in the club over the apparent rift between long-time captain Lucky Lekgwathi and certain club officials. Lekgwathi had been left out of the Pirates’ squad for the past two games, including the MTN8 final against Platinum Stars, which was lost in a penalty shootout.
He was later quoted in the media as blaming his omission on a personality clash within the club excluding De Sa from any blame rather than on his ability as a player. Reports had since stated Pirates were considering charging Lekgwathi with bringing the club into disrepute because of these comments and he had been summoned to a hearing to explain himself.
Pirates would need not to view this as a distraction against a team of Esperances’ calibre and De Sa said the Buccaneers would only be focused on one thing when they take the field at Orlando Stadium on Saturday at 6pm — paving the way to reach the final and a second Champions League trophy for the club and South Africa.
De Sa rightly believed only a yeoman effort would earn his team a place in the final against the opposing team which most expected would be defending champions Al Ahly of Egypt, who are the eight-times perennial winners of the competition.
“Obviously winning at home is of paramount importance before we travel to Tunis for the second leg in two weeks time but at the same time it is essential we balance attack with defence. “Conceding even a single goal at home can prove costly in view of the away goal rule applying when the teams are level. So winning 1-0 at home is, therefore, better than winning 2-1.”
But De Sa did not believe the odds were necessarily stacked against Pirates when they travelled to Tunisia, with impeccable facilities at the 65 000 Stade Olympique de Rades not posing a major problem – unlike some of the venues in Africa.
Founded in 1919 and multi-champions in both domestic and African competitions since, Esperance’s record speaks for itself. They have reached the Champions League final for the past three years, winning the prized trophy for the second time in 2011 and have been Tunisian League champions for the past four years in a row – rubber-stamping De Sa’s belief that they are the most consistent team in Africa.