Sunday Times STLive By BBK, 2012-02-05

Bucs gird up for Fortress Africa

LAST night, Orlando Pirates' celebrations to mark 75 years of existence culminated with a dinner at the Sandton Convention Centre.

Three days earlier, Irvin Khoza and his Bucs battalion invaded the fairways at Houghton Golf Club, with many exposing themselves as more handicapped than a three-wheeled golf cart.

However, on the green fields of their chosen sporting code, the Buccaneers have no handicap, as their swashbuckling and historic clean sweep of the four domestic trophies under Ruud Krol last season showed.

And their appetite for shiny things has not been sated. Their cup has continued to run over with the successful defence of the MTN8 and Telkom Knockout under Brazilian coach Julio Leal.

It is against this background that there is cautious optimism as the Buccaneers brace for an all-out onslaught on the African Champions League.

With SA soccer at a low point in club and country competitiveness, many are wishing Pirates an excellent run in the competition.

Pirates are covering all the bases in their preparation to confront Angolan side Recreativo de Libolo in a fortnight.

"We have played two matches against Angolan opponents [Petro Athletico and Inter Luanda]," says Khoza. "They may not play the same style as our actual opponents, but it gives us an idea of what to expect."

The Bucs' 007 has also been on the prowl .

"We have sent people to Angola on a spying mission to make sure we are not caught off guard.

"We are serious about this as our success will have benefits for the country as well."

There is, of course, a correlation between success at club and national team level. Pirates proved that in 1995.

Many of the brave warriors who helped Bucs become the only southern African side to clinch the African Champions League trophy in 1996 were well versed in the rigours of African competition.

Helman Mkhalele, the late Sizwe Motaung, Edward Motale, Innocent Mncwango and Mark Fish came from the Jomo Cosmos side that lost in the semifinals of the 1993 Caf Cup Winners-Cup.

Together with other SA stars, among them Doctor Khumalo, Phil Masinga, Shoes Moshoeu, Mark Williams, Neil Tovey and Lucas Radebe, they played a pivotal role in lifting the Africa Cup of Nations trophy.

Elsewhere, the dominance of Barcelona in Spain and Europe is having a ripple effect on the Spanish national team.

The bulk of Barca's players are champions of Spain, and Spain are the reigning European and world rulers.

But continental club supremacy is not going to be easy for Pirates.

It is one thing to sail through the PSL ocean with immaculate ease - and that's not to undermine Pirates' achievements.

The path to glory in the African Champions League will be littered with limpet mines. Orlando Pirates will have to do better than a marine squadron to navigate the potential pitfalls of hostile crowds, poor accommodation, poor training facilities and unfair refereeing.

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