Although they lost 1-0 Pirates went through 3-2 on aggregate after beating the four-time African Champions League kings from the Democratic Republic of Congo, TP Mazembe 3-1 in Soweto two weeks ago.
The last time Pirates reached the group stages of this tournament was in 2006 when they went down 1-0 to CS Sfaxien in the semifinal.
Captain Lucky Lekgwathi is the only surviving member of that team.
Mazembe started the game like a house on fire but found Pirates’ back four in an uncompromising mood, clearing everything thrown at them.
Goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa punched, fisted and saved all the shots coming his way from Mazembe, who were inspired by their throng of supporters.
Pirates suffered a major blow when Lekgwathi was shown a red card in a 50/50 situation. But the visitors refused to throw in the towel.
“It is unfortunate people back home in South Africa could not watch the match, it was bad in terms of everything,” said Lekgwathi.
“Some of these things are killing African soccer. We came here expecting such things, including poor refereeing.
“We were mentally and psychologically strong. I hope CAF will act against some of these people who are bringing shame to our sport.”
After Lekgwathi was sent off, coach Roger de Sa and assistants Tebogo Moloi and Eric Tinkler sacrificed striker Rudolf Bester.
They introduced Bheki Nzunga to keep the defence in good shape. Later, Pirates brought in the creative Oupa Manyisa for Tlou Segolela.
As if Lekwathi’s sending off was not bad enough, Mazembe were awarded controversial penalties but Meyiwa saved from the spot.
Speaking from Congo, Pirates head of administration Senzo Mazingisa was furious with the treatment meted out to them.
“The treatment was bad. Our technical staff were harassed, our dressing room was left wide open. You can write a book about some of these things.
“We had our captain Lucky sent out for no apparent reason. Senzo also saved two penalties. Prior to the start of the game, people here were able to speak English.
“When the game started, they started communicating with us in French, clearly to frustrate us. We hope for the best getting out of this country.
“We are grateful to the South African embassy here, they have been very supportive.”
Sowetan has learnt that the match was not shown live on SABC after some of their crew members were kicked out of the stadium.
Some of them were allegedly arrested by police and soldiers.
“We were informed our crew was kicked out of the stadium. Pirates chairman Dr Irvin Khoza intervened, and we were allowed to go back in,” said SABC group spokesman Kaizer Kganyago. “Later they stopped the feed despite the fact that we agreed with them (the local broadcaster) some weeks ago to televise the game. We really wanted to show the match live on television.”
Meanwhile, SABC reporters who were illegally arrested were freed.
There were no news on their arrest but confirmed reports are that none experienced any injuries.
SA citizens hit the social media yesterday after learning the game would not be televised.
“Yes, SABC is not to be blamed this time,” some said.
SABC headhonchos, Pirates boss Irvin Khoza and Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula will meet with CAF and find out what happened pre and post the match.