Akwa Utd, Rivers Utd walk tightrope in Champions League | Dailytrust

Akwa Utd, Rivers Utd walk tightrope in Champions League

  Action recorded between Young Africans of Tanzania and Rivers United during the first leg of the Champions League preliminary round match in Dar es Salaam
Action recorded between Young Africans of Tanzania and Rivers United during the first leg of the Champions League preliminary round match in Dar es Salaam

Last weekend,  Nigeria’s representatives in the 2021/22 CAF Champions League, Akwa United and Rivers United began the hunt for continental glory with slim 1-0 victories over CR Belouizdad of Algeria and Young Africans of Tanzania respectively.

Despite the victories, Akwa United and Rivers United face uphill tasks tomorrow as they battle opponents from Algeria and Tanzania in the return leg of the preliminary round matches.

Prior to the preliminary round matches, there was palpable fear amongst Nigerian football stakeholders that the clubs may not do well because the domestic league is yet to kick-off.

Such apprehension is not unfounded because in past seasons, clubs that represented the country in CAF Inter-club competitions failed to impress. For instance, last season, it was only Enyimba who dropped from the Champions League to the Confederation Cup that managed to reach the quarter-finals where they were eliminated 5-2 on aggregate by Pyramids of Egypt.

The duo of Plateau United and Kano Pillars failed to scale preliminary round hurdles while Rivers United managed to reach the Confederation Cup second round play-off where they were sent packing by NPFL rivals, Enyimba.

It will be recalled that due to the consistent failure of the NPFL clubs in the continent, CAF was compelled to cut down on continental slots for Nigeria. From four slots, Nigeria was represented by only two clubs, one in the Champions League and Confederation Cup. Expectedly, Nigerian football stakeholders blamed the unfortunate development on the late commencement of NPFL seasons.

However, following marginal improvement in the performances of some of the NPFL clubs, in subsequent years, CAF eventually restored Nigeria’s slots. At the moment, the country is represented by four clubs in the continent as it was before the slump.

It is against this background that the slim victories recorded by Akwa United and Rivers United were considered to be too cold for comfort. Majority of the Nigerian football stakeholders are sceptical that despite the victories, there is no guarantee that the two clubs will last the distance.

Although both clubs are walking a tight rope, the case of Akwa United who could only win 1-0 at home against a formidable CR Belouizdad of Algeria is more precarious. The case of Rivers United is slightly better because they managed to win 1-0 away from home.

Despite the mounting pessimism, there is still a sense of belief in the Champions League representatives from Nigeria that they can go all out to move into the first round of the prestigious competition.

In a post match conference, the Technical Adviser of Akwa United, Kennedy Boboye rued the lack of quality strikers in his team to help him execute his game plan.

The ‘Promise Keepers’,  as Akwa United are called,  lost influential players like Charles Atshimene and Olisa Ndah to CD Feirense of Portugal and Orlando Pirates of South Africa respectively earlier this month.

It will be recalled that Ndah and Atshimene played key roles in Akwa United’s NPFL title victory and Boboye admitted that the club was unable to bring in replacement.

“This is what we have gotten. Most of the players we tried to get did not come. We can’t stop players from travelling. It is unfortunate that we started the tournament very early.”

“We have not been able to play together for a long time. By the time we go beyond this stage, we will be better than before,” he said.

Former Super Eagles forward, Victor Ikpeba, believes Akwa United have what it takes to stun Algeria champions, CR Belouizdad in the second leg of the CAF Champions League.

Speaking on Monday’s Night Football Programme on Supersports, the Atlanta Olympic gold medalist, stated that he was delighted with Akwa United’s victory over CR Belouizdad.

He said that the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) title holders can shock the North African club, if they improve themselves tactically.

“I think it’s a great result from Akwa United. I am so happy for the team. I just hope they can improve themselves tactically to be able to overcome their North African counterparts.

“I believe Akwa United can shock CR Belouizad, if they can concentrate for the whole 90 minutes,” he said.

In the same vein, Rivers United Coach, Stanley Eguma, has warned his players against complacency ahead of their CAF Champions League second leg preliminary game against Young Africans.

The Pride of Rivers defeated the Tanzanian side 1-0 at the Benjamin Mkapa National Stadium on Sunday.

Samuel Omodumuke scored the only goal of the match for the visitors in the 52nd minute to give the Eguma’s side advantage as they head into the return leg on Sunday.

The return leg will take place at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium, Port Harcourt.

Speaking ahead of the second meeting, Eguma hinted that his players need to forget about the first leg result and approach the second leg with all seriousness.

“They are a good side and have mobile players. We need to have the right mentality when we play them at home. We must not relent and fight as if we have not played the first leg.

“We must put in everything in the second leg. That is going to be our approach.

“The players need to rise to the occasion to ensure that we seal the qualification,” he said.

Speaking to Trust Sports, a former Golden Eaglets, Flying Eagles and Akwa United Technical Adviser, John Obuh, expressed confidence Rivers United and Akwa United would do well despite the late kick off of the league.

“It is good they didn’t concede a goal but they should try and score goals when they play the return leg matches. I expected Akwa United who were playing at home to score more goals but since they didn’t, they shouldn’t concede in Algiers.

“The late kick-off of the league is not helping matters but as Nigerians, when things are tough, that is when we excel.

“The good thing is that the continental games started not too long after the NPFL ended. So the players are still fresh to an extent,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, Confederation Cup representative Bayelsa United will welcome Ashanti Golden Boys of Guinea for the one leg preliminary round match on Sunday at the Samson Siasia stadium Yenagoa.

The 2021 Aiteo Cup champions are returning to the continent after seven years hiatus but are confident about progressing to the next round of the second tier competition.

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