Sredojevic: Africa awaits Pirates' return
Orlando Pirates' return to African club competition when the next African Champions League campaign kicks off near the end of the year is being eagerly awaited elsewhere on the continent, coach Milutin Sredojevic told KweséESPN.
"Pirates are returning back and it's a topic all over Africa. They are happy that we are coming back," he said as he discussed his plans for a crowded season which has kicked off for the Buccaneers with a home draw in their opening match of the new South African Premier Soccer League season, followed by a midweek win at Chippa United in Port Elizbeth.
Pirates qualified for the 2018-19 Champions League after finishing second last season to Mamelodi Sundowns.
The dates for the annual African club competitions are being switched this year as the Cairo-based Confederation of African Football bring the dates in line with the domestic seasons of most of its members after years of complaints from top teams forced to play African club competitions games during their off-season.
Once the 2018 edition of both the Champions League and the African Confederation Cup are completed, the next competitions start straight away and are being squeezed into just six months, concluding in May. "With that in mind, we cannot rely on the past and think that things will go well. No! We are already planning for the end of November when we have to play our first match in the qualifying rounds and then hope to go onto the group stage," said Sredojevic.
There are two qualifying rounds, with knockout ties played over two legs home and away, before the group stages begin in early January.
"But we want to go step by step and first is that we have two spikes of competitive form.
The first spike is up to New Year where we want to do well in the league, MTN8 and Telkom Knockout ... and qualify for the Champions League. "The second part of where we want to be in terms of the competitive spike ... and this is why we have a bigger squad and we need all these players, because if we pass through all the competitions we could play more than 50 matches this season.
"The huge increase in matches is why we have needed to improve the quality of our squad and with this kind of squad it allows us to cruise through the competitive season," he added.
The Serbia-born coach, now in his second season as well as second spell with Pirates after working in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda, said he was relishing the opportunity to again take a team into African club competition.
Pirates were winners of the old Champions Cup in 1995 and runners-up in the Champions League in 2013 and the Confederation Cup two years after that.
"Remember, I have been coaching in Africa in 18 years. For me, it's like the crocodile is going back to his lake. I know those waters, I know how to swim there," Sredojevic said.