As Orlando Pirates strolled past Al-Ahli Tripoli in Libya on Sunday, and put themselves on the brink of reaching the Caf Confederation Cup final, one was struck yet again by the contrast between the Buccaneers’ continental form this season, and a domestic campaign that has pretty much gone absolutely nowhere.
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The Buccaneers won 2-0 in the semifinal first-leg on the road, but it could have been so much more, but for some outstanding saves from Ahli goalkeeper Muhammad Nashnoush.
Barring a spectacular collapse at Orlando this Sunday, the Buccaneers will be in a first continental final since 2015, when they were beaten by Tunisia’s Etoile du Sahel in the final of the same competition.
Pirates have scored 21 goals in 12 games so far in this season’s Confederation Cup, including the preliminary rounds, and a rampant group stage campaign, in which they scored 15 times in six matches.
In the DStv Premiership this season, Pirates have scored just 28 times in 27 matches, a striking contrast, if you can excuse the pun.
It is hard to say why Pirates have looked so capable in Africa, and so mediocre on the local scene.
One could put it down to the quality of opposition, to some extent. One would be hard pressed to argue that Swaziland’s Royal Leopards, for example, who Pirates fired nine goals past in two group stage matches, are better than many, and perhaps any, teams in the Premiership.
And then there is simply the different style of play in the continental game that Gavin Hunt talked of as Kaizer Chiefs made their way to the Caf Champions League final last season.
Hunt would always say that the pace of play in the Champions League seemed to suit his side better than the helter-skelter nature of the Premiership.
Chiefs, of course, flirted with relegation last season, doing so badly that Hunt was sacked before Chiefs could reach the Champions League final. For Mandla Ncikazi and Fadlu Davids, at the helm of Pirates, it hasn’t been that bad, but it hasn’t been good either, by any stretch of the imagination.
Just nine wins in 27 league matches is appalling, for a squad with the quality that Ncikazi and Davids have at their disposal, and as it stands, they look unlikely to qualify for Caf’s competitions by virtue of their position in the Premiership.
Pirates will hope that the similarities with Chiefs end if they reach the Confederation Cup final, as Amakhosi were beaten in the Champions League final by Pitso Mosimane’s Al-Ahly.
The Buccaneers could do with a trophy to put in their dusty cabinet, in the midst of a silverware drought that has seen only the 2020 MTN8 in the last eight seasons.
Pirates, to their credit, have always valued competing in Africa, the first South African side to win the Champions League (1995), finalists again in 2013, and finalists in the Confederation Cup in 2015.
Winning this trophy could just put a spark back in the Buccaneers in the Premiership next season that has been lacking,