Nigeria’s quest for another continental glory in the Confederation of African Football’s elite club competitions will begin this weekend with the quartet of Plateau United, Enyimba FC, Rivers United and Kano Pillars taking on opponents from other African countries.
For 16 years, Nigerian club sides have faltered in continental competitions but this year, the four clubs will be aiming to rewrite history by putting up better performances.
However, most Nigerian football fans have received the clubs’ optimism with a pinch of salt and apprehension because their preparations have left so much to be desired.
Due to the outbreak of the deadly COVID-19, since March, all football activities in the country came to a halt. It was in October that the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 approved the resumption of contact sports.
Unfortunately, the domestic leagues are yet to resume, making it difficult for the continental clubs to have enough preparations. The quartet, therefore, depended on Pre-season tournaments across the country to get ready for their continental assignments.
Enyimba who will begin their campaign on Sunday against Rahimo FC of Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou used the recently concluded Governor Ikpeazu Cup to prepare for the fixture.
Both sides in Sunday’s match have met on two occasions with each recording a win. In 2019, Enyimba hosted Rahimo in Aba and recorded a massive 5-0 win while the return leg ended 1-0 in favour of Rahimo.
The widely held opinion is that Enyimba have not had enough preparation but the Media Officer of the club, Zazi Bariza is confident of victory in tomorrow’s match.
“We are in the competition to win. We are at the preliminary stage and our ambition now is to qualify for the next round.
“We have some injury concerns in the team and the absence of some of the players will be felt but we are still good to go,” he assured.
The other Champions League representative, Plateau United who are the reigning NPFL Champions will have their hands full on Sunday when they entertain Simba Sports Club of Tanzania at the New Jos stadium.
The coach of Plateau United, Abdul Maikaba who spoke to Trust Sports said despite obvious challenges brought about by the outbreak of COVID-19, his wards are ready to take on their opponents.
“We are doing our very best to prepare the team. We faced challenges in our preparation, like the #EndSarsprotests which made the state government to declare curfew.
“The domestic league which is yet to start is another setback but we have done everything possible to prepare the team to face Simba FC.
“We want to go step by step, game by game. Simba is a very good side and so we will remain focused and get the results against them.
“If we are able to cross this hurdle, before we prepare for the next one, we would have started our league. Our players would be match fit to play against any team,” he said.
The two clubs in the second tier of the CAF competitions, Rivers United and Kano Pillars also face tricky opponents away from home.
While high spending Rivers United will kick-start their campaign with a fixture against less endowed Futuro Kings of Equatorial Guinea, the ‘Masu gida boys’ as Kano Pillars are called will be in Dakar, Senegal to battle Jaraaf FC.
Recently, the coach of Rivers United, Stanley Eguma while fielding questions from journalists in Ijebu-Ode where his team participated in the Governor Dipo Abiodun Cup said the ‘Pride of Rivers’ won’t disappoint their teeming fans.
“Our target is to win something in the league this season, both in the NPFL and the Confederations Cup. I know it is very possible if we work very hard.
“For now, we have started and we hope that we will do a lot of hard work to achieve our collective goal, which is winning either the NPFL or the confederation Cup title or both”, said Eguma.
Eguma also said Rivers United are fortified with the acquisition of the experienced duo of Ifeanyi Anaemena and Theophilus Afelokai who joined from rivals Enyimba and will help the club in achieving their goals.
“All the players are doing well. We rely more on teamwork not individual players. We don’t judge them on individual basis but as a team and we are trying to gel as a team.
“But Anaemena and Afelokhai are good and experienced players. They are integral members of the team. They came from the same club and the more they play, the more they get used to the team.
“I hope that their cohesion will give us more balance in the defence. We expect to see what they are made of and can bring to the team in the continent,” he said.
On their part, Pillars who fumbled last year in the Champions League against Ghana’s Asante Kotoko will be aiming at revival when they visit Dakar to battle newcomers Jaraaf FC.
Kano Pillars are Nigeria’s second representative in the Confed Cup and are excited to be back in the continent again and will be Jaraaf FC’s guest in Senegal on Saturday.
Considering their poor away form in recent continental outings, Pillars fans will be praying for their darling team to post a result that will make the return leg a formality.
The Media Officer of Pillars, Malam Rilwanu Idris Malikawa told Trust Sports that the players’ morale have been lifted by the financial support from the government.
According to him, before the team jetted out of the country on Thursday, they were hosted to dinner where over N7m was used in clearing the player’s outstanding match bonuses and allowances.
“The players are in high spirit. The club has paid all outstanding match bonuses amounting to about N7m. They are ready to deliver and make Nigeria proud. All the 20 players are physically fit and will be led on the field by the legendary Rabiu Ali,” he said.
Without doubt, the confidence exuded by the quartet ahead of their matches has not doused completely the worry in the hearts of some of their supporters.
However, the Chairman of Club Owners Association of Nigeria, Barrister Isaac Danladi who doubles as Chairman of Nasarawa United has said there is nothing to fear.
In a chat with Trust Sports, the member of NFF Technical Committee wished the clubs the best of luck as they kick-off their campaigns.
“My expectations are very clear. There is no way I cannot wish the four representatives a good outing. They have worked so hard despite the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic prevented sporting activities in the country. Nonetheless, they were training silently and observing all the health protocols.
“The clubs have been able to engage themselves in strong Pre-season tournaments. I wish them well and I pray they go very far in representing the country.
“As it is now, they are not representing their states but the whole of Nigeria,” he said.