Royal AM 2-2 Orlando Pirates: Bucs' Caf Champions League hopes fade away after disappointing draw
Jabulani Ncobeni, Royal AM & Thembinkosi Lorch, Orlando Pirates, May 2022
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Thembinkosi Lorch and his Buccaneers teammates could miss out on continental football after they allowed a two-goal lead to slip

Orlando Pirates are at risk of missing out on continental football after drawing 2-2 with Royal AM in their penultimate Premier Soccer League match of the season on Friday night.

The Buccaneers took an early two-goal lead as Deon Hotto and Kwame Peprah hit the back of the net within the first six minutes of the game at Chatsworth Stadium. However, Thwihli Thwahla fought back in the second half and they managed to grab two late goals through Thabo Matlaba and Mfundo Thikazi. 

Pirates knew that only a win over Royal AM would keep their dream of qualifying for next season's Caf Champions League alive. Co-coaches Mandla Ncikazi and Fadlu Davids made one change to the team which thrashed Maritzburg United 4-1 on Tuesday as Ntsikelelo Nyauza replaced Happy Jele in the starting line-up as Bucs' ageing club captain was rested. 

Thwihli Thwahla were also hoping to qualify for the Champions League as they needed a victory to book their spot in Africa's most prestigious club tournament. Former Pirates striker Ndumiso Mabena replaced the injured Victor Letsoalo in the starting line-up as coach John Maduka made four changes to the team which lost 3-2 to Mamelodi Sundowns on Monday. 

Pirates started the match on the front foot with Thembinkosi Lorch continuing his scintillating form which has seen him being recalled to the Bafana Bafana squad. The man nicknamed Nyoso was poking holes into the Royal AM defence from the right side and he was heavily involved when Bucs took an early two-goal lead. 

Nyoso delivered a sublime cross into the hosts' box and Hotto turned the ball home from close range to hand a 1-0 Pirates just three minutes into the game. The visitors were soon 2-0 up when Nyoso's well-taken cross found Hotto whose header was turned home by Peprah in the seventh minute to make it two goals in as many matches for the Ghanaian striker. 

The Buccaneers then took their foot off the pedal and they allowed Thwihli Thwahla to control the match. However, goalkeeper Richard Ofori made routine saves from attempts made by Shaune Mogaila and Ncobeni. Olisa Ndah won almost every ball in the air while also being calm and composed when in possession of the ball at the heart of the Bucs defence. 

With his side having trailed 2-0 at half-time, Maduka introduced 2021-22 Nedbank Cup Most Promising Player of the Tournament Thikazi who has impressed in his debut season in the local top flight. Thwihli Thwahla bombarded the visitors' box with crosses which were cleared away by Ofori and his defence in the early stages of the second half.

Thikazi became a livewire on the left flank for the hosts delivering some great crosses and one of them found Mxolisi Macuphu, but Ofori produced a magnificent save to deny the experienced striker. Ncikazi and Davids reacted by refreshing their team as they introduced Fortune Makaringe and Terrence Dzvukamanja.

The hosts resorted to long-range shots with the Bucs defence looking solid and compact. Matlaba cut inside from the left and he unleashed a thunderous shot which beat Ofori hands down to make it 2-1 with 11 minutes left on the clock as the former Pirates captain made it a nervy finish for the Soweto giants.

The comeback was completed in stoppage time when Mogaila's quality cross found an unmarked Thikazi in the blind spot and he scored with a first time shot to ensure that the game ended in a 2-2 draw. The draw elevated Royal AM to the third spot on the league standings after what was their final match of the campaign.

Therefore, Pirates' hopes of qualifying for the Champions League faded away and they can only finish third and qualify for next season's Caf Confederation Cup if they beat SuperSport United by five clear goals in their final game of the season on Monday.