Rusty Leopards made to pay in Confed Cup match
BLACK Leopards' match rustiness was a factor in their 0-0 draw against Al-Merreikh of Sudan at Ellis Park on Saturday, which saw the South African team exit the Confederation Cup at the final qualification stage.
Leopards' unexpected run to within one match of the lucrative group stages came to an end when they could not break down a defence-minded Al-Merreikh, who won the first leg in Sudan two weeks ago 3-2.
A 1-0 or 2-1 victory on Saturday would have been enough, on away goals, for Leopards to become the first South African club to qualify for the group stages of an African club competition since Orlando Pirates reached the semifinals of the Champions League in 2006.
Leopards, who fought relegation in the last PSL season, were not expected to make an impact in their African campaign, but put on a brave performance by beating Motor Action of Zimbabwe, Saint Elio Lupopo of the DRC and Nigerians Warri Wolves in the previous rounds.
Leopards captain Mongezi Bobe admitted his team's lack of regular matches - the Premier League ended six weeks ago - and the heavy pre-season training had affected their performance on Saturday.
"Al-Merreikh packed their defence and made it difficult for us to score. And their goalkeeper (Akram Salim) was also brilliant," Bobe said. "Also, you mustn't forget that we are still in our pre-season stage. So it wasn't easy to finish 90 minutes. I think the guys' legs were heavy. But that's not an excuse - (Al-Merreikh) are a good team, they deserved to win. "
Lidoda Duvha coach Sunday Chidzambwa said the experience the team had gained in the Confederation Cup would stand them in good stead for the coming PSL season.
"You can see with the way we are playing now, the guys are not intimidated at all," Chidzambwa said. "We've got to work on a few things, especially keeping ball possession.
"We are looking forward to the PSL now. We have to set our targets higher in the league next season.
"We're going to introduce a few players and that can only make our team stronger."
Chidzambwa said Merreikh's defensive game plan had made life difficult for Leopards. The experienced Sudanese club barely launched an attack and played a smothering game against their hosts.