Pirates walking Champions League tightrope
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The dice are loaded against top South African football club Orlando Pirates as they seek 2012 CAF Champions League salvation in Angola tomorrow.

Touted as potential champions before the three-round qualifying competition kicked off two weeks ago, the Soweto Buccaneers suffered a stunning 3-1 home defeat by unheralded Clube Recreativo Desportivo do Libolo. Most of the damage was inflicted early with Maieco Henrique striking twice inside 17 minutes and Henri Camara added a third midway through the second half before Rooi Mahamutsa snatched a stoppage-time consolation.

The popular media theory that Pirates had underestimated the internationally raw visitors was discounted by star striker Benni McCarthy, who said his team needed to match what the Angolans did in Port Elizabeth. "We need to score early goals - the earlier the better - and be organised in defence," stressed the player who collected a 2004 UEFA Champions League winners medal with Porto.

However, that will be easier said than done as Egyptian giants Al Ahly are the only visiting team to have scored three times and won by a two-goal margin in 55 Champions League qualifying and group games in Angola. Record six-time African champions Ahly triumped 3-1 over Petro Atletico in Luanda 11 years ago and the other 11 home losses suffered by Angolan sides were all by the narrowest of margins.

While Pirates have won two league matches since the first leg debacle and will boast a stronger side with goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs fit again, Libolo lost 2-1 to cup winners InterClube in the two-leg Angolan Super Cup. Pirates are one of two former champions in action, with Cairo-based Zamalek much better positioned than the South Africans to reach the second round after forcing a 1-1 draw at Young Africans of Tanzania.

Former Wigan Athletic striker Amr Zaki, who scored the late equaliser in Dar es Salaam, misses the return match through injury but ex-Ajax goal poacher Ahmed 'Mido' Hossam is available after a lengthy lay-off. Crowd trouble in a Champions League qualifier last year means the Egyptian White Knights must play behind closed doors as they seek to atone for an early exit from the last championship.

Ivorians Africa Sports, who came closest to winning the premier CAF club competition 26 years ago when losing a shootout against Zamalek, could face the Egyptians again in the next round. The Abidjan Eagles enjoy home support as they try to overcome a 3-2 deficit against Gabonese military outfit Missile after the most thrilling of 18 first leg encounters.

There are several regional derbies, with none more intriguing than the clash of Rwandan army club APR and Kenyan visitors Tusker in Kigali after a goalless first encounter. The honour of being the first club to get a crack at defending champions Esperance of Tunisia, meanwhile, is likely to go to US Ouakam of Senegal, who have home advantage and a one-goal lead over Gambian side Brikama United.