Leopards will be wary after drawing Sudanese in the CAF Confed Cup

AFP, Tuesday 15 May 2012

South African club Black Leopards could face challenges on and off the field after drawing Sudanese side El Merreikh on Tuesday in the CAF Confederation Cup play-offs

While 1989 African Cup Winners' Cup holders Merreikh are habitual competitors in CAF competitions, Leopards are appearing for the first time this year and have exceeded expectations by reaching the last-16 stage.

Merreikh boast a host of Sudanese internationals who helped the east African country reach the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals before falling to eventual champions Zambia.

They also have a prolific scorer in Nigeria-born Kelechi Osunwa, a Zambian midfielder with a fondness for goals in Jonas Sakuwaha, and are coached by Brazilian Heron Ricardo Ferreira.

Merreikh are among eight CAF Champions League second-round losers relegated to the second-tier Confederation Cup after being eliminated 3-1 on aggregate by TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo last weekend.

While Leopards, from northern city Polokwane, would love to emulate the on-field achievements of Mazembe against Merreikh, they will be desperate to avoid the off-field distress suffered by the Congolese in Sudan.

Mazembe players, coaches and officials were reportedly pelted with missiles when they entered Khartoum airport and the almost 100-strong delegation had to pass through one passport-control desk when many others were open.

A long delay waiting for luggage added to the fury of the visitors and police advised them to remain in their hotel for safety reasons, leading to several training sessions being cancelled.

Black Leopards, who are struggling to avoid relegation from the South African Premiership, eliminated Motor Action of Zimbabwe, Lupopo of DR Congo, and Warri Wolves of Nigeria to reach the play-offs.

AC Leopards of Congo caused the biggest shock of the three-round qualifying phase by toppling 2007 and 2008 title-holders CS Sfaxien of Tunisia and will confront defending champions Maghreb Fes of Morocco in the play-offs.

Maghreb started this year in the Champions League only to drop to the Confederation Cup after suffering 2-0 home and away losses to Zamalek of Egypt, with Moroccan media reporting that coach Rachid Taoussi is set to quit.

Club Africain of Tunisia, runners-up to Moghreb last year, drew Djoliba of Mali and 2011 Champions League silver medallists Wydad Casablanca of Morocco were paired with Ivory Coast outfit AFAD Djekanou.

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