Johannesburg — THE Confederation of African Football have defended their decision to continue using the under-fire Mbombela Stadium despite the turf on the 45 000-seater venue in Nelspruit having come under severe criticism from teams participating at the African Cup of Nations finals.
Reigning African champions Zambia, two time winners Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia, who made their return to the tournament after a 31-year absence, were in Group C that used the venue for their round robin games. Players and coaches from the teams complained about the appalling state of the pitch which has too much sand and is bumpy.
Apart from hosting the group games, Mbombela will also be the venue for tomorrow's quarter-final clash between Togo and Burkina Faso.
The venue will also host the second of the two semi-final matches with the other last four encounter slotted in for Moses Mabhidha in Durban.
Togo captain, Emmanuel Adebayor, added his voice to the growing chorus of condemnation of the surface after his team battled to a 1-1 draw against Tunisia in their final Group D game on Wednesday night.
"The disgraceful pitch did the image of African football no favours. The stadium is one of the best I have played in but to be honest it's a disgrace for our continent to be playing on this pitch when it's on TV around the world. Caf have to do something.
"I think those watching the game in Europe will soon be texting and asking if I was playing in a bush. It's a disgrace to our continent I think we can do better," Adebayor said.
But Caf are not moved and the continental body's secretary-general Hicham El Amrani ruled out chances of moving the semi-final to the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg insisting that Mbombela would host its remaining matches as scheduled.
El Amrani, flanked by local organising committee chief executive Mvuzo Mbebe, however, told a press conference in Sandton yesterday that the continental body was concerned with the state of the pitch.
"We were surprised by the condition of the pitch when the tournament started and we can only improve on it. It is a combination of factors that led the pitch to been that state and right now the condition of the pitch is our priority".
Asked if they had any plans to relocate the games from Mbombela the Caf secretary-general was adamant:
"Plan A is Mbombela, Plan B is Mbombela and Plan C is Mbombela. The only plan is to improve that pitch," El Amrani said.
Amrani, however said Mbombela would not be one of the venues they will use for the African Nations Championships, a tournament reserved only for those players playing their trade in their national leagues.
Zimbabwe's Warriors, conspicuous by their absence from a Nations Cup tournament just next door, are now hoping to make some amends by qualifying for next year's CHAN tournament.
The Warriors have been to the last two editions of CHAN having qualified for the inaugural event in Cote d'Ivoire in 2009 and made it to the second edition in Sudan two years later.
But the Warriors and their multitude of fans have had to concerned with being armchair viewers for the Nations Cup for which El Amrani revealed that 71 000 tickets had so far either been sold or allocated as complimentary for the February 10 Nations Cup final at the Nationsl Stadium (Soccer City Stadium) in Johannesburg and only six thousand were still up for grabs.
El Amrani also said they still had 19 000 tickets available for the semi-final in Durban after 29 000 tickets had been sold by yesterday morning. Of the 38 000 tickets available for the second semi-final at the contentious Mbombela, 14 000 have so far been sold with 24 000 still up for sale.