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Orlando Pirates' hopes of a third consecutive South African Premiership title were dealt a blow Saturday after a 0-0 home draw with Pretoria University.
The deadlock left the Buccaneers four points behind arch rivals Kaizer Chiefs with eight rounds left of the richest African national football league, which rewards the winners with a $1,085 million (845,000 euros) cheque.
Winning the championship is the last chance of domestic glory this season for the Sea Robbers after failing in the three cup competitions, including a stunning 4-1 defeat by fourth-tier Maluti College in the FA Cup.
Even the introduction off the bench of striker Benni McCarthy, a 2004 Champions League winner with Porto, after a long injury lay-off could not inspire Pirates to a desperately-needed victory.
Mid-table Pretoria came to Soccer City in Soweto looking for a point and almost snatched victory deep in stoppage time after surviving a late flurry of attacks.
Pirates had the ball in the net nine minutes from time, but the effort was correctly ruled offside, and full-back Happy Jele came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock as time ticked away.
His speculative long-range attempt drifted past Zimbabwe goalkeeper Washington Arubi, who believed the ball was going wide, only to rebound off the far post.
Pirates almost lost the match at the death when slick passing set up Bongani Zungu for a close-range shot that was brilliantly parried to safety by Senzo Meyiwa.
"We must get used to teams playing defensively against us in the hope of taking an away point," said frustrated Pirates coach and former South Africa goalkeeper Roger de Sa.
"There were too many attempts to force our way through the middle instead of going wide. We were guilty of some bad passing and the bumpy pitch suited Pretoria more than us."
Pretoria coach Steve Barker praised his players: "The effort and character of the boys was tremendous and they put their bodies on the line. To hold Pirates and Chiefs away this season is great."
Platinum Stars had Namibia striker Henrico Botes red carded as they fought back in Rustenburg to draw 1-1 with Mamelodi Sundowns, leaving them eight points behind Chiefs in third place.
Burundi star Papy Faty scored three minutes from time to earn Wits University a 2-1 win at Golden Arrows and Kermit Erasmus bagged a brace for SuperSport United in a 3-2 home victory over Black Leopards.