JOHANNESBURG – Orlando Pirates will play in the group stages of the Confederation Cup after just a single round of matches in the preliminary qualifiers following the withdrawal of Angolan side Sagrada Esperanca.
After finishing third in the Premiership last season, the Buccaneers qualified for the Confederation Cup – their third successive qualification for a continental competition after qualifying for the Champions League back-to-back.
Their two successive qualifications for the Champions League meant that the Buccaneers received a bye in the first round of this season’s preliminary qualifiers. In the second, they were up against Esperanca, who played in the semifinals of the Angolan Cup.
Prior to the cancellation of the Angolan top-flight season, fellow semi-finalists InterClube withdrew from the competition, automatically allowing Esperanca to occupy the country’s final spot in the continental qualifications.
Pirates played the first leg in Angola late last year, winning 1-0 thanks to a late goal from Thembinkosi Lorch. But with the return leg scheduled to take place at Orlando Stadium on Wednesday, Esperanca withdrew from the match.
The Angolans are citing the growing number of positive Covid-19 cases and deaths in the country for their withdrawal.
“Having considered all issues, fundamentally the need to preserve the life of its athletes and that of the technical team, the club decided not to travel to South Africa,” read a statement seen by the South African media.
“And as such we have already communicated the position to the competent bodies, namely the FAF and CAF, for the purposes considered convenient.
“Sagrada Esperanca renews its willingness and ambition to participate in all competitions under the aegis of CAF.
“But in perfect health security conditions. So it asks the understanding of the concerned members for the position now taken.”
Esperanca indicated that even though the Angolan government had banned all modes of transportation to the country, they were given access to travel. Instead, they opted against taking up the option due to worries about the safety of the coaching and playing personnel.
“Despite having obtained the authorization, by way of exception, from the Angolan government, the risks inherent in the team’s stay in South Africa would be very high for the health of the athletes,” the statement continued.
“This is in line with the magnitude of the contagious level and extreme lethality of the new version of the Covid-19 virus which rages in South Africa.”
Meanwhile, Kaizer Chiefs safely touched down in Angola yesterday to honour their Champions League preliminary qualifiers match against Primeiro do Agosto, which will take place this afternoon (5pm kick-off).