It is going to be anxious moment for followers of the two Nigerian club sides because in as much as the popular demand and expectation is to see them begin the crucial stage of the campaign on a brilliant note, the fact that the two will not be going into this weekend’s battles on equal strength is glaring.
Out of the two clubs, Kano Pillars appear to the better prepared as they take on their opponents today. The team is currently brimming with confidence having knocked out Egypt’s Al Ahly which was highly favoured to retain the trophy they won a record five times. That resounding victory which took the Egyptians and indeed Nigerians by surprise has boosted the confidence of Kano Pillars. The ‘we can do it’ spirit is infectious and has caught up with every member of the team. The belief in self is so strong that the technical adviser of the team, Ghanaian born tactician Malik Jabir is sounding so confident that today’s encounter as dicey as it may be , will not prove too difficult to handle. He however confessed that technically, he does not know much about his opponents but hopes to survive today in far away Ndola in Zambia. When asked about how much he knows about his opponents, he said “not much technically. But to reach this far means they are a strong side. I hear they have some good players and hope to survive against them”.
Therefore, as Pillars take on their opponents today, expectations will be high that they would put their acts together and salvage at least a point from the encounter. Malik Jabir will be counting on the experience of ` players like Gambo Mohammed, Henry Uche and Bello Kofarmata to contend with the football skills of the Zambians who boast of national team players like Hichano Himondo and Jonas Sakuwaha.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s other representatives, Heartland of Owerri will take on giants TP Mazembe of DR Congo in another important match. Kano Pillars may exude a lot of confidence but the same cannot be said of Heartland who will be going into tomorrow battle as a depleted team. The Naze millionaires will be without the services of most of their regular players who were instrumental to the club’s progress in the money spinning league. At least five of the club’s regulars have been confirmed to be out of the crucial match for different reasons. While foreign import, Signs Chimbambo of Zambia has travelled home to celebrate the birth of his first child, ex-junior international John Owoeri and Kabiru Alausa have gone AWOL. Mid-fielder Julius Ebido is serving a suspension handed to him by CAF. In addition, junior international Joshua Obaje is currently in Qatar with the Flying Eagles.
The team which left Nigeria in batches cannot boast of adequate motivation but having qualified for the money spinning stage of the competition, nobody can doubt the team’s ability to hold its own against any opposition. But a look at their opponents profile shows that Coach Kelechi Emetole who is at the helm of the team’s technical crew with his players will have to do something extra ordinary to get something out of tomorrow’s match. Formed since 1939, TP Mazembe has emerged as one of the most formidable clubs on the continent and will surely give Heartland a good run for their money.