Former Blackburn and West Ham striker Benni McCarthy scored on his debut as Orlando Pirates launched their South African Premiership title defence with a 2-0 victory at promoted Black Leopards on Friday.
McCarthy replaced first-half scorer Bongani Ndulula after 62 minutes at Peter Mokaba Stadium in the northern city of Polokwane and put the outcome beyond doubt with a second goal eight minutes later. Slick passing carved open the Leopards defence and when the ball was crossed to the far post, McCarthy stroked it into the net to give Pirates the perfect start after winning a dramatic 2010-2011 championship chase on the final day.
Much is expected of 33-year-old McCarthy, who scored a record 31 goals for the national team before weight problems cost him a place in the squad when South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup™ last year.
He sprang to international prominence at the 1998 CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Burkina Faso by scoring seven goals, including four against Namibia, as South Africa finished runners-up behind Egypt. After spells in the Netherlands and Spain, McCarthy excelled at Portuguese club Porto and helped them win the UEFA Champions League under manager Jose Mourinho before moving to England where he faded after a goal-rich first season with Blackburn.
Relegated West Ham freed him in mid-year after an unhappy relationship, with Benni making few appearances and scoring no goals while under constant fire for being overweight. He has signed a two-year contract at Pirates with the major goals being to retain the Premiership title and bring the CAF African Champions League trophy back to Soweto after a 16-year absence.
Fears that a Leopards team coached by former Zimbabwe captain Sunday Chidzambwa will struggle unless they bring in reinforcements were confirmed as they battled to contain Pirates.
Moroka Swallows, a Soweto club who narrowly dodged relegation last season, got off to a good start by coming from behind to triumph 3-1 at Santos with midfielder Lefa Tsutsulupa bagging a brace. Bheki Shabangu headed the Cape Town club in front and after Tsutsulupa scored from a free kick and a drive, substitute Bennett Chenene grabbed a third goal for the Birds in stoppage time.