Holders Esperance escaped with a valuable point away from home after holding a very attack-minded Orlando Pirates to a highly tactical 0-0 stalemate on Saturday in Johannesburg.
Yet to lose a Champions League match at home, Pirates were determined to cause an upset against their more fancied North African opponents who displayed class and composure in a highly entertaining match.
The Buccaneers were the first to ask questions of the defending champions after Zambian-import, Justin Shonga, fired a well-taken shot with his weaker foot that had the beating of the keeper but went inches wide.
The hosts did well to deprive the reigning champions’ possession with their passing game with impressive build ups from the back as they aimed to frustrate the North Africans. Esperance did however display their class as they remained resolute in the final third as they dismantled their opponents’ build ups where it mattered the most.
Pirates felt hard done by the referee in the 26th minute in what appeared to be a very dangerous tackle on Thembinkosi Lorch by Mohamed Yakoubi for the referee to wave play on.
It took 31 minutes for the Blood and Gold to have a sniff at a goal as a delightful cross by Esperances’ dangerman, Taha Khenissi was fisted away from danger with Mohamed Belaili well positioned to have a strike.
Momentum was back with the hosts when Lorch concluded a solo run with an ambitious shot from far out which sailed over the bar in the 33rd minute. The industrious forward was in the thick of things minutes later when he found Shonga whose shot lacked direction as the hosts continued their search for the lead.
Pirates could have gone to the break with a lead as a delightful ball from stand-in captain, Musa Nyatama found Shonga who lobbed the on-coming keeper for his goal to be ruled off side.
The Buccanners wasted no time in getting off their starting blocks in the second half as their pressed their opposition high up in their half. The early pressure almost paid dividend minutes into the second stanza when Lorch connected well with a hanging ball with a well taken volley that was deflected for a corner.
Vincent Pule then had his chance of getting the opener following a relatively quiet first half. The skillful midfielder cut inside the box to unleash a venomous effort which was also deflected for a corner in the 51st minute.
Rami Jeridi showed great reflexes in the 63rd minute to save what would have been an own goal from Chamseddine Dhaouadi who’s attempted clearance from a Lorch cross went the wrong direction.
Jeridi had to come to the rescue yet again in the 80th minute after a quick interchange of passes between Motshwari and Maela saw the keeper coming off his line to block the shot.
The Blood and Gold almost broke the hearts of the hosts with just two minutes to full time when substitute Tayeb Meziani’s well take shot from outside the box went agonizingly wide off target as the two sides shared the spoils.
Pirates will travel to Tunisia in 10 day’s time in what promises to be another exciting encounter.
In the other match of the group earlier, Horoya registered their first win of the group stages as they fought to a 1-0 away win to FC Platinum in Zimbabwe.
Moine Chaabani (Head Coach, Esperance)
I think my players came here with an intention to get good results and I think we played very well. We find ourselves in a group whereby three teams have an equal chance of going through to the quarterfinals: Esperance, Orlando Pirates and Horoya.
I’m very happy with my players and I’m happy with our performance. Tactically, they were very difficult. I think they (Orlando Pirates) have some good players. We came to this game having played some very difficult games including a semi-final back home whereby we played almost two hours.
But I’m happy about how we played and managed the match. Orlando Pirates is one of the biggest teams in Africa. You will remember that a few years ago they went to our stadium and got results.
Milutin Srejojevic (Head Coach, Orlando Pirates)
This game was like playing chess; it was a very tactical game of football. There was a period whereby we had three against three in the midfield and we kept on moving around and chasing each other.
We played a very good team. They knew us, we knew them and you could see they planned for our strong points.
I think we created chances but not enough. It is a bitter feeling because we played very well against a very good team but we couldn’t score. The goal alluded us. We have to go back and plan. We have to focus for the next game in Tunisia.
I know that the conditions will favour them in Tunisia including the weather and the field conditions. We have to prepare well for the return leg. It is not about home and away but points. Our aim is to finish amongst the best two teams in our group.