29 September, 2022
After three weeks of no competitive action, Orlando Pirates are in preparation for what’s perhaps their trickiest assignment so far this season, and captain Innocent Maela believes it’s important that they give themselves every chance to remain in the hunt for silverware.
There are potentially three important fixtures in the MTN 8 standing between the Buccaneers and hoisting the first trophy on offer this season, and that quest continues on Saturday with the first leg of the semifinal tie against defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns.
The defender will be leading his teammates out the tunnel at Orlando Stadium in a game that’s undoubtedly one of the most important in his young captaincy, having been awarded the armband prior to the start of the ongoing season.
With over 150 professional games under his belt, Maela is well versed on the subject of pressure, and has had some time to get accustomed to the responsibilities that come with being the leader of the group.
“Whether you wear the armband or not, the pressure is the same as long as you’re representing the team,” he told Orlandopiratesfc.com in an exclusive interview.
“There will always be pressure to deliver and perform, so for me it’s been the same, but obviously this season I’ve assumed more responsibility and accountability within the group.”
The 30-year-old will head into the fixture as one of the few players at a slight advantage in terms of match readiness, following his outing with the national team where he had a full run during South Africa’s 4-0 routing of Sierra Leone last Saturday.
He believes that running out in a competitive setting during the FIFA break will have done his fitness no harm.
“Playing competitive matches helps because they keep you switched on,” Maela said. “The preparation is different to what you get when you’re training and not playing any games. This past weekend I had a competitive full 90 minutes, and I think that will go a long way.”
Since returning to the Bucs camp midway through the week, all focus has been on the return of domestic football, which kicks off with the much-anticipated clash that will be playing out in front of a potential full house in Soweto.
Maela acknowledged the magnitude of the occasion but cautioned against being overawed by the moment, with a good performance on Saturday crucial to Pirates’ chances of reclaiming the trophy they last hoisted two years ago.
“We’re playing against a very good team, but we have a plan,” Maela said. “We know how to play the game and we must make sure that we don’t play the occasion, but play the game.
“It’s also very important for us to do well in the first leg because it’s our home game in front of our supporters. At the end of the day, it’s a tie with two legs so we have to be smart and we need to know how to play in a certain way to give ourselves a chance going into the second leg and ultimately progress to the final.”
The first leg of the MTN 8 semifinal between Pirates and Sundowns kicks off at 15:30, with the second leg set to take place at Peter Mokaba Stadium on Saturday, 22 October.