Pirates begin Champions League hunt

Benni McCarthy celebrates scoring for Orlando Pirates
Benni McCarthy celebrates scoring for Orlando Pirates

The 2012 African Champions League kicks off this weekend with former winners Orlando Pirates facing a tricky tie against Recreativo do Libolo of Angola.

The 1995 champions suffered a humiliating first round exit two years ago at the hands of Gaborone United from neighbouring Botswana.

They lost a two-goal advantage at home and the tie on away goals.

Libolo have limited international exposure and none of their players were at the just ended African Nations Cup.

Soweto-based Pirates turned 75 this year and club chairman Irvin Khoza craves a second continental title after shocking Asec Mimosas 1-0 in Ivory Coast to capture the 1995 title.

He invested heavily in new players last month, including former Arsenal and West Ham striker Luis Boa Morte, who made his league debut on Wednesday.

But the South African side missed the Caf registration deadline and can only play the Portuguese if they reach the mini-league phase.

To get there Pirates must eliminate Libolo, Sunshine Stars of Nigeria, and one side from Revenue Authority of Uganda, Correctional Services of Lesotho or Djoliba of Mali.

Pirates coach Julio Leal is pinning a lot of faith in veteran striker Benni McCarthy, who won the Uefa Champions League with Portuguese club Porto.

"Benni is a footballer of superior quality who brings an extra dimension to the team.

"His strengths include holding up the ball, bringing team-mates into play and an ability to score goals," boasted the Brazilian.

Vita Club of the DR Congo and Zamalek of Egypt are other former champions in action this weekend with a further six, led by title holders Esperance of Tunisia, receiving byes.

Although the Kinshasa-based outfit have disappointed in recent appearances, they will are favoured to establish a winning lead at home to Athletico Olympic of Burundi.

Zamalek, whose record of five Champions League titles is bettered only by Cairo rivals Al Ahly with one more, face a tougher challenge away to experienced continental campaigners Young Africans of Tanzania.

Tusker of Kenya host APR of Rwanda and the return of Power Dynamos of Zambia after an 11-year absence begins with a game in Madagascar against debutants Japan Actuel.

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