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The Bucs are on the rise after upsetting Al Ahly in Egypt, receiving admiration all over Africa as Goal journalist in Ghana Joel Hammond writes

Orlando Pirates have been in scintillating form in this year's Caf Champions League and could well end up as winners on the evidence of current form.

The man who has made all of this possible for Pirates is head coach De Sa, a man presently unpopular in Ghana for his rather distasteful comments about Ghanaian striker Yakubu Mohammed.

Nevertheless, he has been able to steer Pirates to a purple patch of sorts in the current edition of Africa's elite inter-club competition and has gradually won over the admiration of fans of the Buccaneers and neutrals as well.

De Sa was appointed manager of Pirates in 2012, and inherited an ageing yet all-conquering squad that had claimed domestic trebles in two consecutive years and were by far the best team in South Africa at the time.

The former Bafana Bafana goalkeeper's mission was quite simple: rebuild the current squad with younger and fresher limbs, instill confidence and belief in them and, ultimately, win laurels.

De Sa took charge of Pirates at a time the aura of enthusiasm had started to ebb. The club had been eliminated at the quarter-final stage of the MTN Top 8 and occupied a lowly tenth place on the league log.

Without hesitance, the 2002/03 PSL Coach of the Year set to work and quickly endeared himself to the club's fans by stringing a 12-game unbeaten streak and managed to finish the season as immediate runners-up to eventual winners and archrivals Kaizer Chiefs.

Disaster threatened to strike, though, when his side let a convincing two-goal advantage slip in the latter minutes of the Telkom Cup against Bloemfontein Celtic and ended up losing on penalties.

In the wake of that loss and subsequent pressure from the fans and media to quit, De Sa opted to stay put. Pirates' chairman Irvin Khoza openly affirmed his trust in the capabilities of De Sa, indicating that the coach's youth policy indeed represented the club's way forward.

During the January transfer window, De Sa requested a center-back, an attacking midfielder, and a striker. Eventually, the club only delivered to him the former -albeit an inexperienced type- with the other deals falling through at the last minute, one of which was supposed to bring in 2012 Nations' Cup winner Rainford Kalaba.

Champions League football beckoned for the Bucs, playing first against Djabal FC of the Comoros Islands and romping through by five unanswered goals. The second leg was hardly different as Pirates thrashed their opponents 4-0, thus securing a resounding aggregate score and a date with Zambian representatives Zanaco. Again, Pirates emerged unscathed with an impressive two-legged victory.

Then came the big one, against four-time champions TP Mazembe. A convincing 3-1 loss in South Africa meant Mazembe had their work cut out for the reverse, and true to form, the Ravens claimed a 1-0 win at home in Lubumbashi, only not enough to stop Pirates' from qualifying for the group phase of the Champions League for the first time since 2006.

Back in familiar territory, Pirates were drawn into what many pundits believed would prove the 'Group of Death'. Even so, the dominant Egyptian duo of Al Ahly and Zamalek were the bookies' early favourites to sail through.
 

Pirates began their campaign against Congolese side AC Leopards, but failed to replicate their amazing form, eventually settling for a draw which all but took the wind out of their sail.

Unperturbed, De Sa insisted thus: "We have to focus on the next match. We will be watching footage of the Egyptian teams and plan accordingly. There is never a day we don't practice finishing. It is frustrating that we didn't score tonight. But we are creating so it is good", he added.

Tagged as underdogs ahead of a trip to Cairo to face record African champions Ahly, Pirates apparently didn't stand a chance of sneaking as much as a point.

De Sa, after learning his lessons in the first game, paraded a rather defensive side in a 4-5-1 formation designed to stiffle the opposition's midfield while relying on the occasional counter-attack. Needless to say, the change in approach worked a treat.

The Sea Robbers outclassed last year's winners in every department and emerged 3-0 victors, thus shattering a six-year record that saw Al Ahly last beaten at home in African competition by Etoile du Sahel in 2007.

De Sa's efforts haven't gone unnoticed by Pirates' supporters either. As one excitedly echoed to Goal in Ghana over the weekend, "So far Roger is doing well, but some fans and sections of the media want him out, because they feel he is tactically bankrupt. I believe he can take us far, though."

Loud and true as those words ring, De Sa does appear to have the competence to take Pirates not just far, but perhaps all the way. For the club's faithful, it could well be time to dream again, for on current evidence, "Black is, well and truly, back."

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