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Pirates push game forward to avoid Messi clash

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MESSI-DEPORTIVOJOHANNESBURG, June 5- Popular South African football club Orlando Pirates will this weekend acknowledge the pulling power of Lionel Messi and break with tradition.

The Soweto club, who traditionally stage Saturday fixtures at night, have brought forward by five hours a CAF Confederation Cup play-off against Guineans Kaloum.

Club official Floyd Mbele said the Buccaneers did not want to go head-to-head with the Champions League final between Barcelona and Juventus in Berlin.

Televised European football is hugely popular in South Africa, and even Pirates crowd-pullers like midfielder Oupa Manyisa could not hope to compete with Messi and Barca team-mate Neymar.

The wintery weather that has struck Johannesburg, sending temperatures plummeting after dusk to single-digit celsius figures, means Pirates’ 1500 local time (1300 GMT) kick-off makes added sense.

Pirates will defend a 2-0 lead over Kaloum at Bidvest Stadium close to central Johannesburg because Orlando Stadium in Soweto is undergoing close-season maintenance.

While the ground holds only 5,000 spectators, Pirates assistant coach and former star Tebogo Moloi believes the venue will work in favour of the 1995 African champions.

“We want to create a hostile environment for Kaloum. Bidvest Stadium is compact and hopefully it will be packed with our supporters,” he said.

Complacency is the major concern of Moloi and head coach Eric Tinkler, a midfield enforcer in the 1996 South Africa Cup of Nations-winning team.

“We dare not display arrogance going into this match, thinking that the Guineans are going to make it easy for us,” warned Moloi.

Kaloum, one of eight CAF Champions League last-16 losers demoted to the second-tier Confederation Cup, flew to South Africa with a new coach, Ivory Coast-born Rigo Gervais.

Compatriot Francois Zahoui was axed after the Champions League exit and French replacement Hugo Cabouret lasted just one CAF fixture.

Pirates were the only Confederation Cup contenders to win away three weeks ago with the other seven first legs producing home victories.

Tunisians Esperance were the most impressive winners, thrashing Ghanaians Hearts of Oak 4-0 with Nigerian Samuel Eduok bagging a brace.

Under-fire Hearts coach Herbert Addo has told supporters who doubt the ability of his team to overcome the huge deficit to stay away from the Accra Sports Stadium.

“Only those who have confidence in the team should turn up,” said Addo.

It will be the last match in charge for Portugal-born Esperance coach Jose De Morais, previously an assisant to Jose Mourinho at Porto, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.

He announced his resignation when the ‘Blood and Gold’ finished only third in the Tunisian title race, meaning no CAF Champions League football next year.

Nigerians Warri Wolves are another club in trouble after a 3-0 drubbing by 2012 Confederation Cup winners AC Leopards in Congo Brazzaville.

Leopards have enjoyed considerable success against Nigerian rivals in recent years, knocking Heartland out of the Confederation Cup and eliminating Kano Pillars from the Champions League.

Wolves coach Paul Aigbogun says his squad are “in a positive mood” and Oghenekaro Etebo and Freedom Omofoman have been freed from a Nigerian Olympic Games training camp for the match.

An intriguing North African showdown pits new Tunisian champions Club Africain against record eight-time African champions Al-Ahly with the Egyptians taking a one-goal advantage to Rades.

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