The Buccaneers qualified for the semi-finals after finishing second in Group B, while Ahly was able to come top of Group A, so the Egyptians will prepare for the encounter with a psychological edge, and history on their side.
Ahly are also determined to give their fans something to smile about, following their 2-0 loss to Zamalek last Monday, handing the Egypt Cup to their bitter rivals. The Pirates game and the second-tier continental club championship in general now has added significance for Fathi Mabrouk’s team.
Both sides should be commended for reaching the semi-final stage, but neither team is prepared to end their run at this junction, with a final place up for grabs for the team that deserves it most over two legs.
Injuries and suspensions will affect the South Africans, with the goalkeeper position particularly badly hit by injury woes. Pirates only have one registered goalkeeper fit to play against Ahly, as Equatoguinean Felipe Ovono steps up to the plate to replace Brighton Mhlongo, whose knee problem has kept him from a return to the pitch.
New Pirates goalkeeper coach Rowen Fernandez commented on the situation. “Obviously Brighton (Mhlongo) is still injured so Ovono is our only keeper for the CAF competition. You want to get some rhythm going, for a goalkeeper it is important to play, so the more that Ovono plays the more consistent he’ll get.”
Ovono has been rested due to his own injury concerns, but he has been required in recent games and has featured in order to prepare for this semi-final clash.
“The league is as important as CAF (competitions) so we’ve got to find a happy medium. It is a bit risky, but we are at the stage of the tournament now – the semi-finals against the African giants. We are holding thumbs that nothing goes wrong with Ovono in the Polokwane game,” Fernandez said referring their league game against Polokwane City which ended barren last Tuesday.
Pirates will be without Happy Jele and Siyabonga Sangweni, as the veteran defenders are suspended for the game. Tshepo Gumede and Rooi Mahamutsa may be used as cover for the absentees. In addition, Oupa Manyisa was forced to leave the pitch on Tuesday night's 0-0 league draw with Polokwane City with an ankle injury, and will not play on Saturday.
As far as Al Ahly is concerned Gabonese import Malick Evouna has been included in the traveling part despite concerns over his fitness, whilst midfield duo Hossam Ghaly and Walid Soliman are out injured. Right Bassem Ali is also suspended.
Orlando Pirates coach Eric Tinkler commented on his defensive worries and the need for his team to play with enthusiasm.
“The area of concern (heading into the Al Ahly game) has been defensively and I am glad we kept a clean sheet (against Polokwane City). I think that is a positive that we can take away from this game. It is a good morale booster for the goalkeeper and for the back four as well,” Tinkler told the media.
“In our offensive play we have kind of gone off the boil and there has been a knock in our confidence after the game against Zamalek (which we lost 4-1), but what is important now is just trying to motivate the boys to make them understand that it is a massive game on the weekend. It is a once in a life-time opportunity, we don’t get these opportunities every year and we need to make the most of it,” he added.
“The only way we can do that is if we go out there and play with the enjoyment we have shown in the past.”
Tinkler’s team will need to make the most out of this first semi-final in South Africa, armed with the knowledge that the return leg in Suez at the beginning of October will determine the finalist, with the Egyptians benefitting from home advantage in the deciding encounter.
Saturday, 26 September 2015
Orlando Pirates (South Africa) vs Al Ahly (Egypt) 18H00 Johannesburg
Sunday, 27 September 2015
Etoile du Sahel (Tunisia) vs Zamalek (Egypt) 20H00 Sousse
*All times are in local time