Pirates of SA at the gates of glory

10 November 2013 - 02:31
By BBK Unplugged

When they first said they wanted their second star, we stifled our mirth because they'd been saying it for so long. When they were knocked out in the qualifying round by little-known Angolan side Recreativo do Libolo last season, we couldn't help but laugh out loud.

Then they finally got in, but the moment we saw they had the legendary TP Mazembe, four-time champions, in their way we dismissed their chances. Cul-de-sac, we shouted. They shut up and snuffed out the DRC monsters only to be told the creme de la creme club side in the history of African football, Egypt's Al Ahly, were in their group. Again we kissed their chances goodbye. But they beat the seven-time winners, Cairo' s Red Devils, 3-0 away and drew 0-0 at home.

When finishing second in the group meant they had another African powerhouse, Tunisia's Esperance, we said surely this was it. It wasn't, as they booked themselves a place in the final against Al Ahly. Al Ahly secured a one-all draw at Orlando Stadium and the general feeling is that Orlando Pirates will be lambs to the slaughter in Cairo this evening. What will we say then?

We will say two things will happen. The first is that we will look back to the last time a South African team appeared in the Caf Champions League final.

The year was 2001. Mamelodi Sundowns faced a formidable foe, the self-same Al Ahly. The home leg ended 1-1. Then, a certain Mohamed Aboutrika wasn't the architect of the 3-0 annihilation that Ahly visited on Downs for a 4-1 aggregate. The second is that we'll fast forward to 2013 and find that Aboutrika is the spearhead to Ahly's advance to a record eighth continental crown. Like an annoying, free-styling mosquito baying for your booze-filled blood at 4am, Aboutrika refuses to go away. In the twilight of his career, he is still the fulcrum of Ahly's forward forays. His fine freekick - and GPS-accurate passing in the first leg - dispelled any delusions that the Egyptian equivalent of Zinedine Zidane is a spent force. Tonight's game will close the curtain on his immensely illustrious career. He will want to walk away covered in glory.

Pirates' job is to spoil the party. Not just that, but to crown their majestic march to the day of reckoning.

If we cast our minds back to their annexing of the crown jewel of African club competition, the 2013 sojourn bears a striking similarity to the 1995 journey. Back then, Asec Mimosas came to FNB Stadium and grabbed a 2-2 draw. Few gave Pirates a chance of coming out of the Houphet-Houphet Boigny Stadium in Abidjan alive in the return leg. But football bloody hell, to borrow from that Scottish maniac Slur Alex. Mark Fish hoofed forward an anywhere-will-do clearance. The ball took a bounce deep in the opposition half. Two defenders collided in their rush to close down Jerry "Legs of Thunder" Sikhosana. The son of Thembisa was coolness personified as he stabbed the ball into an empty net. Boom! Orgasmic! History! Take that! Suckers!

Fast-forward to 2013. Al Ahly got a valuable away goal at Orlando last weekend. The odds are heavily stacked against Bucs at the Arab Contractors Stadium tonight. One thing is certain: there'll be elation or dejection tonight. The question is where? In the north or south of Africa?

One captain will hoist high the most coveted piece of silverware in African club football.

Will it be Wael Gomaa or Lucky Lekgwathi?

"You must make a wish whenever you see a shooting star" is the superstitious mantra pushed by my late granddad.

As Pirates stand at the gates of glory, the whole of SA and southern Africa wish for a second golden star above the crest of the skull and crossbones.

Anything short of that will be an anticlimax.

Whenever the odds have been stacked against them, they've been able to rise like the proverbial phoenix. They've taken their chances. They've ridden their luck when they needed to do so.

Lekgwathi has stuck around Pirates like a credit-card debt. Let the skipper of the Pirates of South Africa lead them to the Red Sea for the biggest loot in their history.