Founded almost 70 years ago, Orlando Pirates has long been considered a symbol of hope and achievement in South Africa and focal point for the country's majority black population.

Formed before World War II as a boys club in Soweto, that legendary sprawling township on the edge of Johannesburg, the club was a source of great pride in the days of apartheid and, more recently, was also at the forefront of the move towards professional football in the country, where it now symbolises a different kind of success in the new and free South Africa.

Enjoying lucrative sponsorship and passionate support, not only in their Soweto base, but across the country, Pirates are not longer a symbol against oppression, but rather a commercial success story. Not that their achievements have been confined to off the pitch. On it, the club have won seven championships in the last 35 years, two in the last five years, although they qualified for this year's CAF Champions League as runners-up in South Africa's Premier Soccer League to their long-standing rivals, Kaizer Chiefs.

Pirates will also compete in the 2007 edition of the CAF Champions League after again finishing second in the league standings, this time to Mamelodi Sundowns, a disappointing outcome for a team who have assembled an expansive squad packed with some of South Africa's best up-and-coming talent. 

Change in the dugout
These two successive runners-up slots came at the cost of coach Kosta Papic's job, with the Serbian opting to resign near the end of the league season in May and halfway through Pirates' Champions League campaign.

In his place has come a compatriot, the 37-year-old Milutin Sredojevic, who arrived in Johannesburg from St George of Ethiopia, whom he coached in the early stages of the same competition. Of course, unlike players, 'Micho', as the coach likes to be called, is not cup-tied and has steered Pirates through a choppy start to the group phase and into the semi-finals of the continent's biggest club competition.

He has inherited a talented and largely youth squad, many of whom have come through Pirates' well-oiled junior structures, with others bought in by its big-spending chairman Irvin Khoza, who is also a key figure in South Africa's football administration not to mention chairman of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ Organising Committee.

Diminutive midfielder Benedict Vilakazi has overcome difficult personal circumstances to retake his pre-eminent role in the side, with another key player the Nigerian Onyekachi Okonkwo, who already has two Champions League medals to his name with Enyimba in 2003 and 2004. Okonkwo had the morale-booting fillip of winning his first full cap for Nigeria's Super Eagles last Sunday in the CAF African Nations Cup qualifier against Lesotho in Maseru, where he came on as a second-half substitute.

However, Pirates have endured something of a crisis in front of goal in recent months and will be looking to rectify this for their vital CAF Champions League semi-final, second leg match against CS Sfaxien of Tunisia. All eyes, therefore, will be on a strikeforce made up of Congo DR international Blaise Mbele and two young South Africans, Lebohang Mokoena and Phumudzo Manenzhe.