Pirates fail to score against Zimbabwe champions FC Platinum in Bulawayo
Orlando Pirates huffed and puffed but could not score as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Zimbabwe side FC Platinum in their opening Caf Champions League Group B clash at the Barbourfields Stadium in Bulawayo on Saturday.
It may well prove to be a handy point in what is likely to be a difficult away day for all the teams in the pool as FC Platinum, making their debut in the pool phase of the competition, proved an organised and physical opponent.
Defending champions Esperance played to a 1-1 draw against Horoya from Guinea in the other game on Group B on Friday night, meaning all four sides have a single point after the opening round of matches.
The match in Bulawayo was played in front of a packed stadium, with many supporters wearing the colours of The Buccaneers, who were clearly a star attraction for locals.
It is a reminder of the popularity and influence of South African football beyond the borders of the country as the official capacity figure of 40,000 appeared to be significantly exceeded with many fans seated and standing in the gangways.
It was another test of foreign conditions for a South African club after Mamelodi Sundowns had lost to Lobi Stars on Friday on an artificial surface that saw the ball move almost too quickly for them to play.
In this instance there was as much dead grass as green on the surface, with the longer grass holding the ball up and making passing difficult – certainly not the quality of pitch Pirates are used to in the Absa Premiership.
The visitors featured two Zimbabweans in their line-up, defender Marshall Munetsi and forward Kuda Mahachi, and also handed a starting place in Alfred Ndengane for his Champions League bow.
Jackson Mabokgwane was preferred in goal, with Vincent Pule, Augustine Mulenga and Thamsanqa Gabuza all starting on the bench.
Justin Shonga had the first sighting of goal in the game as Pirates worked him into space on the right-hand side of the box, but his low effort was blocked by home goalkeeper Petros Mhari.
Home midfielder Kelvin Madzongwe forced a good save from Mabokgwane with a rasping 35-yard effort, while at the other end Thembinkosi Lorch tried to catch Mhari off his line from a similar distance but saw his shot float over the bar.
FC Platinum notably played a high pressing game, particularly targeting a Pirates defence that has looked vulnerable at times this season.
It gifted the home side set-pieces and possession they should not have had as The Buccaneers battled to clear their lines as they tried to play the ball out from the back.
Innocent Maela put his header from a Mahachi corner just wide of goal 10 minutes before the break, and Lorch forced a good stop from Mhari with a fierce volley from 20-yards.
Shonga’s free-kick was arrowing in on the bottom corner before the home gloveman beat the ball away for a corner-kick as Pirates began to re-assert themselves in the game.
Munetsi headed over from another corner early in the second period, while Mahachi had an excellent chance when he was teed-up by Shonga but skewed his effort, and Farai Madhanhanga shot wide with Mabokgwane rooted to the spot as the home side were reduced to shots from distance that rarely troubled the visiting gloveman.
Vincent Pule had a late shout for a penalty turned down by Rwandan referee Jean Claude Ishimwe, who handled the game superbly and made the correct call.
There was a moment of drama near the end when the assistant referee appeared to have been struck on the arm by a missile from the crowd, but it caused just a brief delay.
Pirates are next in action on Friday when they host Horoya in Soweto.