Pirates and their Tunisian visitors produced a dull stalemate in the first leg of the Caf Champions League semi-final in Soweto, South Africa on SaturdayBoth Orlando Pirates and Esperance started slowly but were comfortable on the ball.
In the fifth minute Pirates were awarded a free-kick near the box, which Klate chose to cross to Sangweni, but it wasn't far from the away keeper Cherifia who gathered easily.
Cameroon's Ndjeng curled an outstanding strike in the eighth minute that closedly shaved the crossbar. It was so close that it looked to have dipped in. Pirates defenders were allowing Esperance space at the back in a positive formation with Manyisa and Jele pushing forward.
Then two minutes later Ndjeng got through from a lucky rebound from Darragi. Meyiwa had to close down the big Cameroonian striker's shot to keep the score at 0-0. Even though Esperance were far more dangerous, Pirates had 59% of the possession in the first 15 minutes. For the next five minutes too, the home side made no impression going forward.
It was turning into a scrappy affair as both clubs kept losing the ball before the half-hour. Bucs were certainly not asserting themselves enough, and it seems both clubs were afraid of conceding, resulting in a negative approach.
Then, suddenly in the 34th minute Klate's cross found Myeni who had a clear header from close range but failed to hit the target.
At the other end Pirates haven't looked convincing at the back, but the feeling is that Esperance is holding back for the 2nd leg where the tie will be decided. The most passion displayed was by Jali, but in a negative sense after losing his cool after getting a soft yellow card, then having a verbal with his own teammate Ntshumayelo.
The second half continued in the same vein with the players looking to go through the motions, mostly concentrating on ascerting authority with heavy tackles. The game desperately needed a goal to change this mindset.
The home fans finally had something to shout about when Manyisa took an optimistic long range effort just after the hour, but it was a great effort that buzzed close to the left of the post. Though, this type of approach of pot shots from distance, you'd expect from an away side. Bucs were afraid to commit numbers forward.
The danger was that Esperance could have given them a sucker punch late on, and that's what nearly happened when Shammam's free kick flew just inches over the crossbar in the 71st minute.
Both teams suddenly woke up in the last ten minutes when Esperance got bodies forward. Pirates gathered the ball well from the back and took advantage on the counter. The immediate breakaway had Segolela cross for Bacela who just needed a touch to grab that vital opener. He pushed himself forward but just couldn't reach it.
With two minutes to go Matlaba unleashed a truly sweat cracker that deserved a goal, but the keeper Cherifia was equal to it, stretching to his left for the save.
Pirates nearly threw it away in injury time with some slack defending allowing Akaichi through on the left from a narrow angle, but his shot across the goal wasn't good enough. Satisfied with a draw Esperance went on to waste time with players going down and a late substitution.
For the second leg Esperance will be favoured back in Tunisia, but Roger de Sa won't mind to play on the counter attack.