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Stumbling Pirates could miss Champions League slot

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Pirates must now beat SuperSport United and hope that Stellenbosch FC drop points against Richards Bay on the final match day next weekend, if they are to have any hope of securing a Champions League berth.

Thato Khiba of TS Galaxy challenged by Tshegofatso Mabasa and Patrick Maswanganyi of Orlando Pirates during the DStv Premiership 2023/24 match at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on 18 May 2024. Picture: Samuel Shivambu, BackpagePix

Matshelane Mamabolo

THE CAF Champions League ticket remained out of reach for Orlando Pirates who now have one last shot at booking their spot on the table among Africa’s top football clubs.

The Buccaneers lost 1-0 against TS Galaxy at an electric Mbombela Stadium on Saturday for a second successive DStv Premiership defeat after their seven-match winning streak was ended by Richards Bay last weekend.

Though already guaranteed continental football with the CAF Confederation Cup after reaching the June 1 Nedbank Cup final against CAF Champions League-qualified Mamelodi Sundowns, it is surely the premier club knockout competition Pirates would rather play.

And with next year marking the 30th anniversary of the club’s solitary success in Africa’s top club competition, participation in the Champions League is almost a necessity.

But to achieve that, Pirates must now beat SuperSport United and hope that Stellenbosch FC drop points against Richards Bay on the final match day next weekend.

And watching them in Mbombela on Saturday, one would not have guessed this was a side in desperate need of the points to earn a chance at continental glory to emulate the Class of 1995. Pirates played second fiddle to a Galaxy side that appeared hungrier and more inspired.

The Rockets played with more verve, they attacked incessantly and with purpose and when they found themselves on the back foot Sead Ramovic’s team looked more solid and tenacious in their effort to win possession.

It was not surprising then that they did find the opposition net, Siphiwe Mahlangu tapping the ball home from underneath the goal following good work on the right flank by Puso Dithejane.

A team counter-attack that saw the ball being passed about ended with the slightly built winger in possession and he made a run for it before delivering a low square ball that eluded the defence and found Mahlangu unmarked.

He needed no second invitation to score his fourth goal in three matches to help Galaxy to three points that sees them moving to fourth spot on the table, a position that could see them going into continental football.

Galaxy showed their intentions in the seventh minute when they caught Pirates on the break but Sipho Chaine blocked Dithejane’s attempt.

Prates twice delivered fantastic passes into the opposition danger area but there was no one to finish them off. Galaxy could have taken the lead on 36 minutes but Lehlohonolo Mojela’s grass-cutter was deflected to the side-net.

The best chance of the first half saw Makhehlene Makhaula blasted the ball over.

A second half that saw Galaxy pressing the hardest and showing more determination see-sawed a bit and against the run of play Pirates nearly took the lead but Fiacre Ntwari made a good save to deny Tshegofatso Mabasa.

Four minutes later, Mahlangu rattled Chaine’s net to give Galaxy the three points that secured their top eight spot, leaving Pirates still in the hunt for that Champions League ticket.

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