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El Merreikh arrive

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It’s Rufaro Stadium!
FC Platinum will play El Merreikh of Sudan in the first round, first leg of the Caf Champions League at Rufaro Stadium on Saturday.

This came after Zifa lost its final appeal to the Confederation of African Football (Caf) on Monday night to have the match played at Platinum’s home ground — Mandava Stadium in Zvishavane — due to lack of accommodation in the Midlands town.

The same venue hosted last month’s preliminary round, second leg against Green Mamba of Swaziland, who were staying in Masvingo, 95km away from the match venue.

Zifa confirmed the developments in a statement yesterday, just before El Merreikh touched down at Harare International Airport.

“The Zimbabwe Football Association hereby confirms that the match between FC Platinum of Zimbabwe and El Merreikh FC of Sudan will now take place at Rufaro Stadium in Harare despite our spirited efforts to have the match in question played in Zvishavane at Mandava Stadium. The Association appealed to Caf last night (Monday) for them to consider FC Platinum’s position and up to now we are yet to receive a response from Caf. We appeal to all football-loving Zimbabweans to come out in their numbers and root for FC Platinum and Hwange FC.”

Zifa chief executive officer Jonathan Mashingaidze said Platinum should focus on the game instead of the “mind games at play”.

“They should not lose focus. The game is much more important than the mind games at play,” he said. The Sudanese side touched down at 1245hrs yesterday and immediately declared victory against their Saturday opponents.

The last time they were here in 2008, they defeated Highlanders 2-0 in the Confederation Cup first round, first leg in a match played at Gwanzura after the former Bulawayo giants had bungled the Sudanese club’s travel arrangements.

El Merreikh, who jetted into the country yesterday afternoon, said they were prepared to take on the Zimbabwean side anywhere, but had to follow Caf rules and regulations.

The team’s manager Ali Sadiq said his club had so much respect for Zimbabwean football, but was optimistic they would beat their hosts 2-0 and then finish them off in the second leg.

“We have so much respect for Zimbabwean football as we are aware that the country has a number of players playing in the best leagues in Europe.

“There is also one player (Edward Sadomba) who plays in our league whom we respect so much. We are ready for the challenge and it is to our advantage that we are playing the first leg away from home. I have confidence that we will win the match 2-0. We have brought 20 players and I think they are ready for the challenge,” he said.

His sentiments were echoed by the team’s executive director Abdel Sheikh Idris who thanked FC Platinum for the team’s hospitality.

“I want to thank FC Platinum for the way they have treated us and I promise them that we will reciprocate when they come to Sudan. I have travelled so much in Africa and I can tell you that most of the problems are caused by the hosting team (in a bid) to unsettle the visitors. This has not been the case with FC Platinum as they have treated us like brothers.

“I understand they are a young team and I tell you if they carry on with this spirit, then they are going to be a great side in Africa. We were prepared to play anywhere, but Caf rules are rules and we could not do anything about that,” he said.

El Merreikh, who are coached by Brazilian Ricardo Heron, have in their ranks free-scoring Zambian international striker Jonas Sakuhawa, Nigerian Clechi Osonwa, Ugandan Mike Mutiaba and two Ivorian nationals Pascal Wawa and Marshal Ediko.

FC Platinum secretary Phil Muwengwa confirmed the change of venue, but expressed hope that their supporters would come in numbers to cheer on the team.

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