Pirates sweat over fitness of international stars ahead of Soweto Derby

Orlando Pirates coach Milutin Sredojevic reacts to a referee's decision Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

The fitness of his international players is occupying the mind of Orlando Pirates coach Micho Sredojevic ahead of Saturday's crunch Telkom Knockout semifinal against bitter rivals Kaizer Chiefs at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.

Pirates had a number of players away on duty with their countries in the African Nations Cup qualifiers and subsequent friendlies, in particular the South African duo of Vincent Pule and Innocent Maela, Zambia's Justin Shonga and Augustine Mulenga and Zimbabwe's Marshall Munetsi.

Zimbabwe had an arduous journey to Liberia that saw them delayed on their return, while Zambia made the relatively short trip to Mozambique.

The South African duo both played the friendly international for Bafana Bafana against Paraguay in Durban on Tuesday.

It is a worry for The Buccaneers coach as all have proven important performers this season and all things being equal would likely start the Soweto Derby match.

"Two of our players played the full match for Bafana Bafana against Paraguay during the week, and we have that in mind‚" Sredojevic told reporters.

"Both of them will have to pass a fitness test in order to prove that they are ready, because a match of this magnitude and importance demands every single player to be 200 percent ready.

"Friday's last training session will tell us what to do, but we strongly hope that the scorer of the winning goal in the last match against Chiefs [Pule] will be part of the team on Saturday.

Pirates beat Chiefs 2-1 in a league clash at the end of last month, with their victory more comfortable that the scoreline suggests.

Sredojevic expects their opponents to be more fired up than usual, not just for revenge, but also because they stand on the brink of a cup final and both teams are seeking to end a long barren run without silverware.

"We are fully aware that our opponents want to make revenge. We need to be on our toes, as we are playing a team with top-quality individuals," Sredojevic said.

"Itumeleng Khune is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and Khama Billiat is one of the players that could play in Europe.

"We are not guaranteed [a win]. We need to work for it to go through to the finals to put the smiles on the faces of the Happy People [Pirates supporters]. They are that driving force, that fueling factor that keeps us moving."

Pirates have not lost in their last 10 clashes with Chiefs, with four wins and six draws in that time.

They are also seeking a hat-trick of wins against the AmaKhosi for the first time in their history, which would have the duel effect of providing a major boost to their confidence this season and also deflate their rivals further in what has been a stuttering campaign for Chiefs.

They are also seeking to improve their record in one of South Africa's major cup competitions that they have won only once in the last 36 years, despite making eight final appearances.

Compare that to Chiefs' 13 wins in 17 finals and it is a dismal record for Pirates that they can begin to put right this season.

The other semifinal in the Telkom Knockout sees BidVest Wits travel to Baroka FC on Sunday. The final of the competition will be played at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on December 8.