By Tolu Olorunmoteni
With Nigerian Champions, Rangers International kick starting their continental campaign with an impressive 1-1 away draw against Algerian side JS Saoura, the remaining three Nigerian teams have no reason to fail, here is why. Having started the season with the NPFL Super four – a preseason, but slightly competitive tournament, birthed in hope that teams participating in the continent every year get some level of ‘competitive’ game time before the preliminary rounds of the CAF competitions.
Fair enough, the strategy has worked. Our teams no longer look out of sorts, first and second round eliminations are now successfully a thing of the past; but you we’re yet to make real impact in both tournament. At that level, only the clubs are responsible. The NFF and LMC should be fully exonerated.
But going into the opening weekend of CAF club competitions, perhaps it should be surprising that all but one – Rivers United – of the best four teams in the league last season are in the bottom half of the log with seven games into the new season. The exception, Rivers United, are placed ninth.
Now let’s look at the first games and their chances of progression.
FC Ifeanyi Ubah vs Al Masry (EGY)
It’s a landmark achievement for this team who will be playing her first ever continental game and interestingly, that will be on their own turf, in front of their own fans, with all the support they can get. The club owned by the Nigerian billionaire Patrick Ifeanyi Ubah will be the only side playing at home on the opening weekend and will be without the services of the highest paid footballer in the country, Godwin Obaje, who had not been signed as at the time of registration. Godwin is a fine player, no doubt, but he hasn’t played a lot of games with his new teammates yet, so his impact can’t be sorely missed when they take on Al Masry – who is placed fourth on the Egyptian League log.
Al Masry have raked in eleven wins from seventeen league games played so far
FC Ifeanyi Ubah will aim to kick-start their sojourn on the continent with a win.
Royal Sierra Leonean Armed Forces (RSLAF) FC vs Wikki Tourists
The Bauchi team, solid under Abdul Maikaba, finished in the top five in each of the last two years, but like the other teams, they have started life slowly this term.
No disrespect to RSLAF, but a team formed in 2002, with no intimidating history and a relatively unknown fanbase. A team which only moved to the top tier of the Sierra Leonean league less than five years ago shouldn’t pose so much of a treat to Wikki. A team that has been solid enough in two years back in the NPFL.
But beware Wikki, the club is made up of 60% civilian and 40% soldiers. They recruit players in the military from a competition known as The Inter Brigade and Inter Battalion competition which includes all the battalions in the country and the Brigades, the finest talent are recruited into the football club. With such military mentality coming into this historic game, expect war.
AS Real Bamako (Mali) vs Rivers United.
Rivers United emerged winners of this year’s NPFL Super four preseason tournament and remain by far, the best placed Nigerian team on the continent. Managed by Stanley Eguma, who isn’t new to continental football. They stand a chance against a Malian side that easily edged the last Nigerian opponent she faced – Enyimba – in the first round of the CAF Champions League in 2014 and has played just a league game so far heading into this crunch tie.
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