BUCS AGAINST THE WALL
Spanish mentor José Riveiro under fire from bullish Orlando Pirates fans ahead of MTN8 final
Saturday’s MTN8 final between Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium promises to be enthralling, and there are subplots to sprinkle more intrigue on the encounter.
In sport, memories are short. Especially when it comes to supporters.
That is why, despite Orlando Pirates winning two of the three domestic trophies on offer last season, there are already some Sea Robbers faithful calling for the head of coach José Riveiro after a stuttering start to the season.
Though the Buccaneers are in a third consecutive cup final – Saturday’s MTN8 clash against Mamelodi Sundowns – which they won last season, along with the Nedbank Cup, their start to the DStv Premiership has been indifferent. Hence the fan frustration.
They are languishing third from the bottom in the league. From five matches played they have won two, drawn one and lost two. Hardly a sufficient return if they hope to make Sundowns genuinely sweat as the Tshwane side pursues a seventh league title in a row this season.
Nevertheless, the Soweto side can still make up some lost ground as they have played four fewer matches than most of the teams ahead of them so far this season.
A preliminary-round exit in the Caf Champions League – a competition the Sea Robbers were hoping to make a splash in – has piled more pressure on Riveiro and his players.
The Buccaneers were knocked out of continental contention by Botswana outfit Jwaneng Galaxy. They lost 5-4 on penalties after a one-all stalemate over the two-leg group-stage qualification fixture.
“I’m fully focused on the final. I’m not a person who’s used to drama. It’s done [the previous results], it’s gone and there’s nothing we can do anymore,” said the Spanish tactician ahead of the crucial clash in Durban versus the Brazilians.
Riveiro’s arrival in South Africa in the 2022/23 season was already filled with drama. Many questioned the Pirates hierarchy for recruiting a coach who acquired most of his coaching experience in Finland – a nation that is extremely far from being a soccer powerhouse.
Even then, Riveiro kept his head down and went about his job. In his first season in South Africa, he collected the two trophies and finished second to Sundowns on the Premiership log table, albeit a mammoth 16 points behind.
We have to get silverware. But this time around we have to get it from the defending champions…and it puts a lot of demand on us.
That return silenced his naysayers, but following this indifferent start to the season, once again there are noises and murmurs that “Pirates is too big for him”.
Come the end of action at Moses Mabhida Stadium on 7 October, which kicks off at 6pm, Riveiro may once again have won over his detractors. Until they forget again and attack him.
In spite of the struggles of the Buccaneers early in the season, their opponents in this weekend’s mega match are not resting on their laurels.
Unlike Pirates, Masandawana are cruising in the Premiership. They have managed eight wins from their eight matches. Unlike the Sea Robbers, they have also made it to the Champions League group phase, where they have been a permanent fixture over the past decade.
The Brazilians battered Burundi’s Bumamuru with a 6-0 aggregate score to qualify for the group stage.
They have also faced Pirates already this season, edging them 1-0 through a Lucas Ribeiro Costa penalty in September. Nevertheless, there was no sense of complacency coming from Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena ahead of the epic battle between the two sides.
“We have to get silverware. But this time around we have to get it from the defending champions. So, we know that we come into the game playing against the champions and it puts a lot of demand on us,” the former Pirates mentor shared.
“This is what cup competitions are about. The players have done exceptionally well to put the team in the final. Now we just have to work for one more game,” the 36-year-old continued.
“Orlando Pirates is a difficult opponent, with very good players on the pitch. An opponent that’s playing its third cup final as a group. So, we know and understand the magnitude of the assignment and we have to focus.”
Focus is far from being Tshwane juggernaut’s Achilles heel, as they have shown through their monopoly on South Africa’s league in recent seasons.
For teams such as Pirates, who are far behind Sundowns in that regard, cup competitions are their best bet to disrupt the Downs monarchy. Nevertheless, Mokwena’s men are heavy favourites in what should be a captivating encounter. DM
The MTN8 final kicks off at 6pm at Moses Mabhida Stadium. It will be broadcast live on SABC 1 and SuperSport PSL.