Big weekend for Sundowns and Pirates as they chase continental glory
Home success in this year’s African Champions League has never been more vital for SA’s two representatives
Home success in the 2019 African Champions League has never been more vital for SA’s two representatives than this weekend when both Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates play in the continental tournament.
Pirates must beat Zimbabwean rookies Platinum FC at the Orlando Stadium on Friday to stand any chance of progress from their group. And should Sundowns win over Lobi Stars of Nigeria they will advance to April’s quarterfinals and could gamble on resting players for their last group game in Morocco next weekend.
The Buccanners kick off at 9pm — one of the absurdities of the Confederation of African Football’s new scheduling policy for its club competitions — with the opportunity to move onto eight points from five games in Group B, if they win.
Should group leaders, and reigning African champions, Esperance, win when they host Guinea club Horoya, then Pirates will go second in the standings and will need only to draw their last game in Conakry next Saturday, March 16, to advance to the last eight.
Sundowns, who also have a 9pm kick off on Saturday, will be sure of progress if they beat Stars and could go top of Group A ahead of Wydad Casablanca.
That will set up an intriguing last group game in Casablanca on March 16, where Sundowns would only need a draw to make sure they finish top of the group and thereby secure home advantage in the second leg of the quarterfinals.
But it poses a dilemma for coach Pitso Moismaine, who must deal with a league match against Maritzburg United on Tuesday — in between the two Champions League assignments.
Does he hope to ensure Champions League progress on Saturday and then take a reserve squad on the long trip to Morocco next week, thereby saving his best players for the trip to Maritzburg United where they need a full haul of points for what is an increasingly tight Premier Soccer League title trace?
Or does he continue his current policy of playing the bulk of his players game after game and hope they keep fatigue at bay? Saturday will be the fourth match in 10 days for Sundowns.
Mosimane insists there is still much in the tank but his side looked tired on Tuesday night when they were beaten 2-1 away at Cape Town City in a setback to their aspirations of retaining their domestic title.
“They are experienced,” he said of his squad. “They know they have to turn the volume up.
“The Nigerians will sit in and park the bus and we have to go and guard against counter-attacking but once we get one goal, we can go. It’s a big game. Once we win this one, we don’t have to worry about winning at Wydad.”
Saturday’s game is at Atteridgeville despite Sundowns moving all recent games to Loftus Versfeld, Mosimane's venue of choice.
The central Pretoria stadium is being used by the Bulls for Super Rugby on Saturday.