The Fellowship of the Star

Orlando Pirates

Against all odds, the Orlando Pirates Class of ’95 became the first and so far the only Southern African team to be crowned champions of Africa.

18 years later, the Buccaneers Class of 2013 are on the brink of rewriting history.

In a journey that began 10 months and 14 matches ago, Orlando Pirates kicked off their Champions League campaign in February.

An easy win against Djabal FC from Comoros was followed by a tough trip to Zambia’s Zanaco and the battle of Lubumbashi, when the team battled in the true sense of the word against TP Mazembe.

If that was not enough, two trips to Egypt to face Al Ahly and Zamalek were followed by another tough trip to Tunisia to take on Esperance.

On their way to the Final, Orlando Pirates had to overcome teams who have won this competition a combined 18 times (Al Ahly 7, TP Mazembe 4, Zamalek 5 and Esperance 2).

And now, with at least 180 minutes standing between the Buccaneers and the Second Star, KickOff.com’s Zola Doda profiles all the Pirates players entrusted with winning the continental showpiece.

 

GOALKEEPERS

Senzo Meyiwa

The 26-year-old shot-stopper has been in goal since the opening match of the competition against Djabal FC from Comoros.

Since the match against TP Mazembe, when he saved two penalties and kept Bucs in the competition, Meyiwa has been going from strength to strength.

In the group stages he only conceded four goals in six matches and will be a key player in the Final against Al Ahly.

Brighton Mhlongo

Bucs took a big gamble when they registered the 22-year-old inexperienced goalkeeper in this competition, but Ghanaian international goalkeeper Fatau Dauda was struggling to get his papers in time.

In the Final against Al Ahly, the Buccaneers will be hoping nothing happens to Meyiwa as Mhlongo is lacking match fitness and yet to prove himself at this level.

 

DEFENDERS

Happy Jele

In the two semi-final matches against Esperance, Happy Jele was one of the best performers – if not the best.

With Lucky Lekgwathi absent, the 26-year-old stepped up to the plate and led by example. His ability to read the game, stand up to the physical challenge of the North Africans and initiate attacks for Tlou Segolela was impressive.

Jele’s career has certainly developed since bouncing back from an injury and in no time he could become a key player for Bafana Bafana. If the defender can continue with his performance in the Final against Al Ahly, the Pirates faithful have nothing to worry about.

Rooi Mahamutsa

The reliable centre-back was not registered for the first round of the Champions League, but since the group stages has performed with aplomb.

Despite playing with the inexperienced Ayanda Gcaba against Esperance, he remained cool under pressure and was able to launch a few attacks of his own when necessary.

With Jele at right-back and Thabo Matlaba or Patrick Phungwayo on the left, the Bucs defence is no pushover. However, with Siyabonga Sangweni injured, Lekgwathi in active and Gcaba inexperienced it is still a question as to who will partner Mahamutsa.

Siyabonga Sangweni

When fit, the 32-year-old club vice captain is by far the best centre-back in the country.

But injuries have robbed fans of seeing the defender playing uninterrupted. With a recent Achilles injury, which has ruled out of action until the December break, Sangweni’s presence will be missed at the heart of the Pirates defence. 

Ayanda Gcaba

The 27-year-old started the first match of the competition against weaker oppositions Djabal FC from Comoros, playing next to Lucky Lekgwathi.

In the semi-final, second leg against Esperance, Sangweni was ruled out with injury and Lekgwathi did not travel, leaving Gcaba as the only choice next to Mahamutsa. But he did not disappoint, except on one occasion when the home side scored caught Mahamutsa and Gcaba ball watching.

Patrick Phungwayo

The former Bidvest Wits man has been ruled out of the Final with an Achilles injury and is expected to return to action in January.

Phungwayo fought for the left-back position with Thabo Matlaba and performed his duties admirably when given a chance to play. Unlike Matlaba, who prefers to push up front and get himself into shooting positions, Phungwayo combined well Daine Klate and Sifiso Myeni. 

Thabo Matlaba

Thabo Matlaba’s ability to get into goalscoring position is a big plus. The 25-year-old is capable of getting a goal or two from a long range, without exposing his defensive partners.

When Orlando Pirates beat Al Ahly 3-0 in Egypt, Matlaba was playing and will find himself with a familiar enemy on Saturday.

Lucky Lekgwathi

Pirates club captain has not played a match since the 0-0 draw against Al Ahly and his inactivity will cost him a place in the Final.

However, coach Roger de Sa might get Lekgwathi on the bench to rally the troops during the most difficult assignment of the season.

Bheki Nzunga

The 26-year-old has been squad player right through the competition and is not expected take part in this weekend’s Final.

 

MIDFIELDERS

Andile Jali

When Orlando Pirates hammered three past Al Ahly in the group stages of the competition, it was Jali, Oupa Manyisa and Thandani Ntshumayelo that controlled the midfield and won the match for the Buccaneers.

This weekend will be a different ball-game all together, but if Jali can raise his game to another level, Pirates stand a good chance to win the match.

Oupa Manyisa

Learning his defensive duties from playing as a right-back under Ruud Krol, Oupa Manyisa has learned to combine his natural skill with the defensive work required in his position.

The 25-year-old will certainly start next to Jali in the centre of midfield, with Sifiso Myeni expected to play ahead of them, just behind Lennox Bacela. Manyisa is one of those players who does not shy away from his responsibilities in big matches and his performance will be key.

Sifiso Myeni

When Sifiso Myeni is on song, the Pirates midfield clicks, and Bacela bangs in goals.

The 4-1 win against Zamalek in the group stages is just one example of where the former Wits player made opposition defenders look like sheep lost on Astroturf.

Myeni’s start to his Pirates career might have been delayed for six months but as soon as he was able to play he never looked back. Over the last two months he has been one of the club’s top performers, and in the Final his individual brilliance will be key in unlocking the stubborn and experienced Al Ahly defence.

Tlou Segolela

Sox’s pace allows him to get behind the opposition defence and put in telling crosses for strikers. But at times the winger the delivers fewer crosses and goals than he should, as he was guilty of in the semi-final against Esperance.

But in Segolela’s absence the Buccaneers lack width. During the group stages he missed the first match against AC Leopards owing to contractual issues, but when he started against Zamalek he did not take too long to make his mark.

Daine Klate

‘Klatey’ has been one of the most consistent Orlando Pirates players in this competition, despite delivering a lacklustre performance in the semi-final against Esperance.

The 28-year-old has won everything there is to win in domestic football and the Champions League is the missing piece in his medal cabinet. Klate is certain to start on the left with Jali, Manyisa, Myeni and Segolela making up the rest of the midfield.

Khethokwakhe Masuku

Despite the recent fanfare following his display of skill, the 28-year-old is untested in the Champions League and will start on the bench if he is lucky.

Mpho Makola

The former Free State Stars midfielder came on a substitute in the semi-final, second leg, against Esperance, replacing Thandani Ntshumayelo, and immediately got into the thick of things.

However, the 27-year-old has seen little action and is likely to start the match on the bench.

Lehlogonolo Masalesa

Sifiso Myeni has struggling with a knee injury and should be fit to start to play against Al Ahly, but if he is not the logical choice would be Lehlogonolo Masalesa.

At the age of 21, the Champions League has been an eye opener for Maselesa and the former Wits man is one of the players future Pirates teams will be built around.

The lanky midfielder was in the starting line up in the 0-0 draw against Al Ahly, playing next to Manyisa and Myeni, and had an outstanding match.

Joseph Molangoane

The former Platinum Stars man was registered before the group stages to provide cover for Tlou Segolela and is likely to start the match on the bench.

Thandani Ntshumayelo

The former SuperSport United midfielder had a great start to the season, only to be ruled out by a foot injury.

The 23-year-old last played in a League match against Mpumalanga Black Aces before limping off injured, and did not travel to Tunisia for the second leg, semi-final against Esperance.

William Twala

William Twala was a surprise performer while on loan at Chippa United last season, prompting Pirates to recall him.

But owing to tough competition for a place in the team, chances have been hard to come by. The 23-year-old’s only appearance in the competition came in 1-0 defeat away to Leopards.

 

STRIKERS

Lennox Bacela

Many eyebrows were raised when Orlando Pirates signed Lennox Bacela from Bloemfontein Celtic, but the 30-year-old striker is to this Pirates team what Jerry Sikhosana was to the Class of ’95.

His physique, ability to hold the ball, delay action, bring midfielders to the game and score goals are the reasons Pirates have reached the Final.

Collins Mbesuma

The burly Zambian international has been unlucky with injuries, if it wasn’t for that he would have played more matches.

In the semi-final, second leg, he came on as substitute and came close to scoring going past three defenders. Against Al Ahly, Mbesuma’s experience will certainly be needed but he is likely to start on the bench.

Thulasizwe Mbuyane

‘Juju’ is one of the most underrated Pirates players. The 31-year-old offers De Sa a lot of options, as he can be used out wide, behind the strikers or as a second striker.

Ndumiso Mabena

Ndumiso Mabena does well to get into goalscoring positions but is scoring fewer goals than he should ­– to put it mildly – which has done little to help him get into the team or get the crowd behind him.

With Mbesuma back from injury, Mabena has fallen down the pecking order.

 

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