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A goalless, gruelling draw in their second-leg Caf Confederation Cup clash against Sudanese giants Al-Merreikh was cold comfort for PSL club Black Leopards at a freezing Ellis Park on Saturday afternoon.
The 17-time Sudanese champions won the first-leg 3-2 at the Al-Merreikh Stadium in Umdurman two weeks ago, and they will head into the last eight round-robin stage of the tournament.
Leopards, meanwhile, crashed out after their fairytale run to the last 16 of Africa's second most prestigious club event.
While the first leg in Sudan was played at a stifling 42 degrees Celsius, the players on this occasion had to overcome cold temperatures in front of a modest crowd.
But while spectators were few and far between, most of the top brass of South African soccer where there, including new Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund and his assistant, Thomas Madigage, and Safa president Kirsten Nematandani, in ther hope of the game in the country receiving a much-needed continental boost.
It was not to be, however, despite Leopards throwing everything into a desperate second-half assault.
Still, it required a superlative exhibition from Sudanese international goalkeeper Salim El Hadi Akram, who kept Leopards at bay with several stunning saves – notably from a point-blank header by Rodney Ramagalala immediately after half-time.
Leopards had come back from a 3-0 deficit in the first-leg, giving themselves an unexpected chance of Caf glory on the away goal rule with late goals from captain Mongezi Bobe and David Zulu.
But their finishing was generally innocuous at Ellis Park against a side who are renowned for being difficult to beat at home, but have won only one of their last 18 Caf away matches.
Leopards started the match cautiously and the Sudanese team appeared in control with deft short-passing in the opening 30 minutes.
An injury to defensive midfielder Davie Banda as half-time approached proved something of a blessing in disguise for Leopards, with the introduction of substitute David Zulu providing a more attacking and inventive overall approach.
But even while demonstrating a more ambitious attitude in the second period, the deadlock continued as the Al-Merreikh defence placed a stranglehold on proceedings. – Sapa