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CONFEDERATION CUP: HEARTLAND LOST TO CAF NOT LEOPARDS - IMO SPORTS COMMISSIONER

By NBF News
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Action during the soccer event at the recently concluded Enugu State Zonal Sports Meet at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium.

Imo State Sports Commissioner, Hon. Ken Emelu, is blaming the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for Heartland's exit from the CAF Confederation Cup on Sunday in Congo.

Emelu, who was close to tears in Dolisie, Congo, where Heartland fell 1-2 to Leopards no thanks to a last minute dubious penalty awarded Leopards, said there were so many things wrong with African football.

The youthful sports commissioner wondered why CAF decided to appoint the referees from Rwanda next door neighbour of Congo and went for a match commissioner from Gabon, another next door neighbour of Congo.

'What we suffered in Congo was nothing but a Francophone gang up. The match commissioner and the referees were simply out to see Leopards through. We started sensing some foul play when we arrived, only to discover that CAF has named a match commissioner from Gabon as replacement for the man from South Africa, who was initially appointed to take charge of the match.

You can see that the Rwandan referees simply messed up the game and with a match commissioner that is out to protect them, there is no way Heartland would have survived,' Emelu said.

The sports commissioner, who was full of praise for Heartland players praised them for putting up a good fight in the face of the mother of all intimidation and hostility.

'Thank God I was in Congo and saw what happened myself. I am going to brief His Excellency, Owelle Rochas Okorocha on how everything went. Even with 10 Messi's, I don't see how Heartland would have survived given the kind of dubious officiating by the Rwandan referees. We have learnt a few lessons from what happened but the truth is that CAF must wake up and do something about the way it is running the game in the continent.'

He said the state government would continue to support Heartland and ensure that the club returns to the continent next year.

Heartland was on the verge of going through to the next round of the CAF Confederation Cup only to be stopped by the last minute penalty awarded Leopards, who converted the kick to win 2-1, thus edging out Heartland on the away goals rule with aggregate scores standing at 4-4. It is recalled that Heartland had won the first leg in Owerri by 3-2.

In Sunday's game in Dolisie, the hosts took a 44th minute lead which Heartland cancelled out in the 80th minute via a superb strike by substitute Haruna Abdul. Just as Heartland was preparing to celebrate a well deserved draw that would have seen it through, the centre referee, Nonyename Kudu, 'manufactured' a penalty for the hosts on the dot of time. With no contact at all, a Leopard player fell in the Heartland 18-yard-box and the referee blew for a penalty.

Christian Chukwu, Heartland's technical consultant, who was speechless described what happened as a shame for African football.

'I just can't believe what the referee did. It is a shame and I don't think African football will grow this way,' Chukwu said. Heartland's General Manager, Fan Ndubuoke on his part, said what happened was nothing but open robbery, even as he charged his players to put the game behind and focus on the task ahead, since in his word: 'We came to Congo, played the best of football but got robbed by the referees and our desperate hosts. We must put this behind, return home and fight to return to the continent next term.'