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Top three now target for Pirates

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Shopprice South Africa

A month ago it sounded like a joke when Orlando Pirates’ captain Thabo Matlaba said that the club was targeting a top three finish.

Having been the butt of many jokes, when they struggled to break into the top eight after a demoralising finish to the CAF Confederation Cup, the Buccaneers are having the last laugh with a finish in the top three now a realistic target with four matches to go.

Pirates are five points away from third-placed Kaizer Chiefs, with their opponents this afternoon, Platinum Stars, and then Mpumalanga Black Aces in between the Soweto giants which has heated up the fight for third place – and top three guarantees a place in next year’s Confederation Cup.

Amakhosi are driven to return to continental football and mount a serious challenge, unlike they have done in the past three seasons where a combination of not taking the competition seriously and just not being good enough have seen them bomb out early. Dikwena are driven by a desire by the man who was part of Mamelodi Sundowns’ technical team, Cavin Johnson, when they lost to Al-Ahly in the final of the Champions League. Stars are also five points ahead of Pirates, but that could be cut to four when they’re docked the point they’ve been fined by the PSL disciplinary committee for felding an ineligible Siyabonga Zulu against Sundowns on August 8 last year. The club is fighting that case as every point could be vital in that battle for third place.

AmaZayoni – led by Muhsin Ertugral who won the Confederation Cup then as the Mandela Cup in 2001 – are driven by the desire to grow their brand and their side that has a sprinkling of youth. For the Buccaneers, it’s about sorting out unfinished business by returning to the tournament they lost in the final. That defeat knocked Pirates out of orbit as they had self-doubt issues that saw them languish at the bottom half of the log. But a heart-to-heart meeting between the players and the technical team in December changed that.

“We always discussed with the coach that we have a great team and can’t lose games like we were doing,” Matlaba said. “We had to man up and start to win. We were playing with two defensive midfielders and then we started playing with one and with a more attack-minded midfielder when we would have Vieira (Lehlohonolo Masalesa) and Bibo (Thandani Ntshumayelo) to attack more rather than defending. When we did that, everything went well. We have been doing well. I like how the guys responded in the way we have been consistent. There will be times when you don’t play well but you have to still be able to get the result. It’s all about getting the result at this stage. We have been scoring many goals with a lot by (Tendai) Ndoro. Even if he doesn’t trek back to mark, we know that when we’re going forward he will be available and will be in a good position to score.”

The Buccaneers will need Ndoro, who has scored 10 goals in their last 10 matches, to be at his scoring best against Dikwena this afternoon with a kick-off at 5pm at the Royal Bafokeng Sport Palace. After Chiefs and Aces dropped points, a win will be vital for either side in that fight for third place.

The Buccaneers, however, have a second chance at qualifying for the Confederation Cup by winning the Nedbank Cup in which they are in the semi-finals. -

The Star

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