Orlando Pirates boosted their ambitions of progressing to the Caf Confederation Cup quarter-finals when they thrashed Eswatini champions Royal Leopards 3-0 in a Group B encounter on Sunday evening.
Three second-half goals from Fortune Makaringe, Kabelo Dlamini and Terrence Dzvukamanja earned the Buccaneers a well-deserved victory as they snapped their three-match winless run across all competitions.
Pirates' co-coaches Mandla Ncikazi and Fadlu Davids made two changes to the team which lost to Marumo Gallants in the Nedbank Cup clash on Wednesday. Ntsikelelo Nyauza and Fortune Makaringe were two new faces in the Buccaneers' starting line-up as they looked to make it two wins in a row in Group B having thumped Leopards 6-2 in Nelspruit a fortnight ago.
Leopards were hoping to record their first win in the group stage having suffered a 2-1 defeat to Libya's Al-Ittihad in their last game in the competition. Ingwe Mabalabala's coach Edwin Matsebula made one change to the team which was beaten by Al-Ittihad as he recalled Wandile Simelane to the starting line-up.
Just like they did in the reverse fixture, Leopards started the match brightly and their early pressure led to Pirates conceding several corner-kicks. Mzwandile Mabelesa came close to breaking the deadlock after connecting with one of the corner-kicks, but his headed effort narrowly missed the target with goalkeeper Richard Ofori rooted the ground.
However, the Buccaneers looked dangerous every time they pushed forward and they got the game's first shot on target. Paseka Mako's pin-point cross from the left found Makaringe, whose goal-bound attempt was fantastically saved by keeper Ncamiso Dlamini from point-blank range.
This proved to be the match's only shot on target in the first half as Ingwe Mabalabala were able to contain the Buccaneers, whose attempts from distance couldn't trouble Ncamiso Dlamini in the visitors' goal. Therefore, the score was 0-0 during the half-time break.
Ncikazi and Davids introduced Dzvukamanja prior to the start of the second half and the hosts piled pressure on the visitors. Makaringe hit the back of the net with a sensational long-range shot from the touchline to hand Pirates a 1-0 lead in the 48th minute as the skillful playmaker marked his return to the starting line-up with a world-class goal.
Goodman Mosele, who was involved in the build-up to the opening goal, grabbed his second assist of the game when the Buccaneers doubled their lead. The 2019-20 PSL PSL Young Player of the Season sent Kabelo Dlamini through on goal with an awesome back-heel pass and the 26-year-old playmaker scored with a low shot to make it 2-0 to Pirates in the 56th minute.
The momentum was with the Buccaneers in the latter stages of the game and Dzvukamanja, who had missed a sitter at the beginning of the second half, made amends by scoring in the 70th minute. The Zimbabwe international headed him Kabelo Dlamini's well-taken corner-kick to seal Pirates' 3-0 emphatic win over Leopards.
The victory elevated Pirates to the top of the Group B standings and they will now take on SuperSport United on Wednesday as the Soweto giants look to return to winning ways in the PSL.