Steve Barker has insisted that it is “not impossible” for his side to reach this season’s MTN8 final ahead of Sunday’s last-four encounter against Orlando Pirates.
Stellenbosch FC will take on the Buccaneers at Orlando Stadium on Sunday in the second leg of the MTN8 semi-finals, looking to overturn a 2-1 deficit from the first-leg tie in Stellenbosch earlier this month.
Stellies head into the encounter on the back of a difficult run of form and following the departure of midfielder Sibongiseni Mthethwa, while Ismaël Touré is also unavailable after being sent off in last week’s league defeat to Moroka Swallows.
Despite these setbacks, coach Steve Barker has insisted that his side are looking forward to Sunday’s match against the reigning champions and that they will be throwing everything at their more-fancied opponents on the day.
“What do they say? A wounded animal is most dangerous at times,” Barker told the media.
“It’s over now and there’s nothing we can do, so it’s important that we remain positive and look forward to a fantastic opportunity. It’s not every year that you are in a semi-final of a major competition, so we are positive and looking forward to that.
“Now they will be saying, ‘They haven’t got Ox and Touré is on a red card and not available, and there is this injury and that injury.’
“Yeah, we know that it’s not going to be an easy task but sometimes when you have your back against the wall, you are dangerous, and we have absolutely nothing to lose.
“We know that we have to score two goals… We want to score two goals to keep ourselves in the tie, and the game doesn’t even change if they score first, because we still need to score twice. If it ends 2-1 and goes to extra-time [a penalty shoot-out] we would take it.
“It would be interesting to see what happens if take the lead, how they would respond, and how the game would then go forward, so we have a chance.
“We’ve shown that in both games against them this season. We’ve beaten them once and in the second game we lost 2-1 but I thought we were unlucky not to get a draw out of the game even though we were down to ten men.
“It’s not as though we won’t have our chances. Obviously, away from home at the Orlando Stadium, it’s a more difficult task but we played them at Athlone Stadium before which isn’t really our home ground either. So, we just need to go there and change our mood, enjoy the moment and the opportunity, the opportunity to reach a final.
“We’ve got to know it’s separate to the league which has its own pressures, but it’s a different game and a different tournament, so we can really approach it with positive, energy and give it our best shot.
“If we fail it won’t be because we haven’t tried, that I can guarantee. We’re going to try our best and be as committed as ever. Stranger things have happened so it’s not impossible for us to get to the final.”
Amid the enforced changes to the Stellenbosch squad, questions were raised as to whether Pirates might take the victory for granted, but Barker believes his side should not and will not be underestimated by Sunday’s opponents.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “They’ve lost two games in a row, in their recent CAF game and their match against Mamelodi Sundowns, so they [will want to bounce back] and they are obviously a very good team.
“If I’m not mistaken, I don’t think their coach has lost a cup game since he has been at Pirates so that’s also something I’m sure they would be dear to hold on to and they are also the defending champions.
“I don’t think they will take it lightly, I don’t think it’s in their nature. Do they believe that with the loss of Ox and the red card that there is an opportunity? They probably do, and I think they will be highly disappointed if they don’t take that opportunity.
“I don’t like the underdog tag but in South African football it is often the case for the majority of the teams you have underdog status when you play teams with cup pedigree like Pirates. They have won many cups and league titles.
“We’re still fledglings in the league after five years. It feels like we’ve been here a long time but it’s not that long, so we don’t have the same pedigree as them in cup competitions.
“I know the coach and have great respect for him, and he has great respect for us as a coach. He always says that we are one of the most difficult teams to play against and he always congratulates us on the way we approach things, so he’ll know it’s not a foregone conclusion.”