Anything less than a win for Pirates would seriously dampen their chances of obtaining the long-awaited second star on the Buccaneers crest.
A draw on Sunday would see Pirates depending on Zamalek to play in their favour by forcing a victory or draw over AC Leopards, who travel to El Gouna with high hopes of causing a treble of upsets over the 1995 Champions League winners.
The odds are against Bucs.
It is a really a big ask for Zamalek to play for their pride and fight off a resolute AC Leopards, who have had a taste of a semi-final spot after their recent 1-0 victory over Pirates.
Although Al Ahly are guaranteed a semi-final spot with 10 points in the group, they are coming to Orlando Stadium with only one aim – to finish the group stage on a high and secure a home second leg fixture in both the semi-final as well as the final.
Ahly coach Mohamed Youssef recently spoke out about this to an Egyptian reporter, saying, "We want to top the table because that would mean a home second leg in the semi-finals and, if successful, in the Final too. Watching videos of Pirates' recent matches convinces me that we have a good chance of achieving a good result in South Africa."
Youssef has a point.
Since their 4-1 demolition of Zamalek, Pirates have only managed to score three goals in their last four games, with unconvincing wins over Soweto rivals Kaizer Chiefs in the MTN8 and a lacklustre win over Premiership newbies Polokwane City. Amongst those came two defeats to Zamalek and AC Leopards respectively.
It may be the traveling that has had Bucs step off the gas for a bit, but the plan was to obtain 10 points in the group since the beginning, with De Sa and a number of senior players emphasizing this over the last few weeks.
But it has now come to the last straw and if they don’t suck it up now then they might end up choking on their own drink, and it would also probably even cost them a place in the MTN8 Final if they go into the Derby with fresh Champions League disappointment.
The Buccaneers can take some positives into the crunch clash at home against the defending champions Al Ahly. Pirates are yet to lose a home fixture in this year’s Champions League, scoring 17 goals and conceding only three in five fixtures, with the only goalless draw coming against Leopards when their fixture was forced across to Soccer City Stadium.
What needs to be done?
Two days before the fixture the key now is no longer in technical and tactical preparation, but instead in mentality.
De Sa needs to make sure he instils the mental strength needed to overcome the odds, by pointing to the positives in their previous matches and the negatives they’ve already overcome in this year’s campaign, but at the same time not to hype them up too much and risk mental exhaustion – meaning leaving too much to ponder on the players’ minds ultimately disabling their ability to rest on the eve of the match.
The other factor would be to take “Bayern Munich” out of the players’ minds as it goes against the great philosophy of “one match at a time”, and the way to the final is long and narrow with little-to-no room for error, starting NOW.
We all know Pirates have the ability and quality in depth in their squad to face this battle, but do they have the right mentality to get through at the final group hurdle?