Heroes’ welcome for Pirates
Orlando Pirates arrived back in the country from Egypt on Tuesday after the second leg of their Caf Champions League final against Al Ahly, which they lost 2-0 to go down 3-1 on aggregate.
After touching down at OR Tambo International airport, the team was met by several dignitaries and thousands of enthusiastic fans. A stage had been erected outside the airport for a formal briefing and presentation of the players.
Yusuf Abramjee from LeadSA was the first to take to the podium and he showered the Buccaneers stars with praise: "Our critics asked why we gave a send-off, and why we gave a welcome. It's simple: we are proud South Africans so we celebrate," he was quoted on the club's Twitter account.
Premier Soccer League (PSL) CEO Brand de Villiers also praised the players for their heroics: “On behalf of PSL, I want to thank Orlando Pirates for what they have done for our football."
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, who has been backing Pirates throughout their campaign, was also present and was full of praise for their achievement.
“Pirates have made history and continue to do so. The only SADC team to win the cup and the only SADC team to reach the final again. May the spirit of this team rub off on all our teams. They went all the way against all odds.
“Let’s develop and nurture talent so we as a country can take this competition seriously. Always know that you are representing Mzansi,” Mbalula said.
The minister commended Pirates for giving their all against the greatest team in African history.
“You must understand that the opponents are not minnows. No fewer than eleven of their players are regular national players. A few of their players came to me after the game to say that Pirates is the greatest team they have played in winning this cup.”
“When you are recognised by your opponent, then you must know there is honour in defeat. People will remember the name of Orlando Pirates," he concluded.
Safa vice-president and Head of Delegation Elvis Shisana, who travelled with Pirates to all their away matches, also offered his words of gratitude.
“The way they have performed augurs well for our football. We travelled with soldiers, not players because without soldiers we would not have got this far. It was war out there.”
“Pirates have set the bar now and it has shown that it can get to that level. Next step is to complete it. Players, don't be despondent. You have done yourselves proud. Keep your head up, walk tall. We are proud of you,” he said.
Gauteng Sports MEC Lebogang Maile, who has been at the forefront together with minister Mbalula, said Pirates' run may augur well for the national team.
“We were with the team in Egypt, together with the minister. And what we saw there can only put our country in a good place. Bafana can do well with the experience gained by these boys. We are extremely proud,” said Maile.
Pirates’ assistant coach Tebogo Moloi couldn’t hide his excitement after the heroes’ welcome the team received and said the future looks bright for the country.
“As South Africa we must dream big. Can you imagine if we had won, then next year Kaizer Chiefs wins. A possibility of a CAF derby final, and a South African team representing us in the Club World Cup, even a Super Cup. Let’s dream big, support our teams and push them over the line,” he said.