The Buccaneers begin their campaign against Zimbabwean outfit FC Platinum at Barbourfields Stadium in Bulawayo, which has a capacity of about 40 000. They were asked to shift their matches from Mandava Stadium to Barbourfields, because their venue currently does not meet the requirements for this stage of the competition.
This is the first time Platinum are in the Champions League group stages and may hence be seen as the whipping boys in the group. That, however, does not mean they should be taken lightly. They knocked out Congolese outfit AS Otoho and CNaPs Sports from Madagascar in the preliminary rounds and will be itching to make a mark in the round robin phase.
Platinum are coached by former Ajax Cape Town and Zimbabwean international defender Norman Mapeza and have recently signed Godknows Murwira and Perfect Cikhwende from Ngezi Platinum and Bulawayo Chiefs ahead of the group stage campaign.
The biggest challenge in the group for Pirates will no doubt come from defending champions Esperance, a side the Buccaneers knocked out in the semi-finals of the 2013 edition.
As defending champions, Esperance did not have to play any of the matches in the preliminary round and they will be raring to go after waiting for everyone else to join them in the group stages.
Last season they scored seven goals in three home group matches, so they will be looking to punish the opponents they host. Five of the 11 points they amassed in the group were collected away from home, which shows that they are able to grind out results on the road.
Their experience in the competition gives them a good chance of finishing top and qualifying for the knockout stages.
Anice Badri, who finished the last edition as top scorer with eight goals, will be the man Pirates will need to look out for when they come up against the three-time champions.
Pirates might want to pay Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane a visit to get some extra notes. Horoya, who are making their ninth appearance in the Champions League, drew twice with Sundowns in the group stages last year, showing that they are no pushovers. They ended up finishing in second place to qualify for the quarterfinals, where they were knocked out by Egyptian giants Al Ahly, who were beaten in the final by Esperance.
To get to the group phase, the club from Guinea beat Liberia’s Barrack Young Controllers and Libya’s Al Nasr. They are stubborn when they play in their backyard, so Pirates should expect a tough battle when they visit Conakry in March, which will be the final group match for both sides.
Ghanaian forward Ocansey Mandela and Bolaji Sakin from Nigeria are men that can cause problems for defenders, so Pirates will need to bring their A-game. Horoya certainly have what it takes to finish in one of the top two spots in the group. Anyone who writes them off could get the shock of their lives.