Hlatshwayo will play at the back but lead Pirates from the front against Sundowns

Orlando Pirates defender Thulani Hlatshwayo.
Orlando Pirates defender Thulani Hlatshwayo.
Image: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Thulani Hlatshwayo is looking forward to playing in one of his biggest matches since he joined Orlando Pirates ahead of the start of the 2020-21 Premier Soccer League campaign.

Hlatshwayo’s team, whom he supported growing up in Soweto, meet Mamelodi Sundowns in a highly-anticipated DStv Premiership tie at the Loftus Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

It is the first Premiership match in 2021 and it pits the teams that have already shown potential to be title contenders with their unbeaten runs keeping both in the top five.

Alongside former Bidvest Wits players Terrence Dzvukamanja, Thabang Monare, Deon Hotto and other new Bucs signings that include Richard Ofori (from Maritzburg United), Wayde Jooste (Highlands Park), Hlatshwayo has taken to playing for the Soweto giants like a duck to water.

A natural leader and a great commander in defence, the Bafana Bafana captain has already skippered Bucs to a MTN8 triumph over Bloemfontein Celtic this month, ending one of the club’s longest periods (six years) without a trophy.  

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s clash, Hlatshwayo said: “Everyone is ready to start the new year on a positive note.

“I wouldn’t say we had some free time for a long time because we had our game in Angola [a Caf Confederation match against Sagrada Esperance on December 22] and the guys needed to spend time with their families, which was a short break.

“You could see in training that the guys are still sharp.”

That sharpness will be vital for Josef Zinnbauer’s team against a Sundowns sitting pretty at the top of the log ahead of Swallows FC on goal difference.

Fifth-placed Pirates are one match and five points behind the Brazilians and could be a setback to their ambitions to end the Pretoria team’s dominance that has seen them winning the championship in the past three seasons.

“Everyone is ready and everyone is available except [Zakhele] Lepasa and [Tshegofatso] Mabasa and we’re happy with preparations so far,” Hlatshwayo said.

“For sure it’s an important game. It’s like a final and internally as a team we have targets and one of the targets [the MTN8] has been accomplished and we’ll make sure that we focus on the league.

“We’ve played a lot of draws, didn’t create a lot of chances and didn’t score a lot of goals.

“We’ve been doing finishing quite a lot during this week and we’re looking forward to Saturday’s game.”

In the absence of Lepasa and Mabasa, Gabadinho Mhango who scored Bucs’ winner in the corresponding fixture in last season’s first round, should lead the line for Pirates. He will be supported by the likes of Hotto, Dzvukamanja, Thembinkosi Lorch, Vincent Pule, with Monare and Ben Motshwari providing cover in the centre of midfield.

PSL this weekend —

  • Mamelodi Sundowns v Orlando Pirates (Loftus Versfeld‚ 3.30pm)
  • Maritzburg United v Bloemfontein Celtic (Harry Gwala Stadium‚ 5.30pm)

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