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Heartland faces tough duel in Algeria

Victory for Nigerian side will certainly go a long way in banishing the nightmares the Nigerian club have endured in Algeria. In 1988, then known…

Victory for Nigerian side will certainly go a long way in banishing the nightmares the Nigerian club have endured in Algeria.

In 1988, then known as Iwuanyanwu Nationale, the Owerri club were denied their first international trophy by Entente Setif in Constantine. Nationale won their first leg final of the African Champions Cup 1-0 only to be walloped 4-0 by Setif in the return leg.

And then six years after, the plane carrying the Nigerian team from a fixture at Esperance of Tunisia crashed in Tamanrasset, southern Algeria. Four persons died, including goalkeeper Uche Ikeogu and defender Aimola Omale.

Like Heartland, JSK are very experienced international campaigners and have even won the African Champions Cup in 1991, among other continental diadems.

The Canaries from Tizi-Ouzou lead Group B after they won their opening game 1-0 away at Ismaily of Egypt.

Belsalam Al-Saied grabbed the match winner after 75 minutes gave the team coached by the Swiss Alain Geiger.

Heartland, on the other hand, failed to take full advantage of playing in front of their fans at the Dan Anyiam Stadium in Owerri as they were forced to a 1-1 draw by six-time champions Al Ahly of Egypt.

Versatile midfielder Ikechukwu Ibenegbu ‘Mosquito’ shone against Ahly and even had a second-half effort come off the crossbar.

His performance, whether as a screen for the back four of Joseph Jackson, Ikechukwu ThankGod, Emmanuel Olowo and Uche Okagbue, or as a creative midfielder will be crucial against the Algerian champions.

The ‘Naze Millionaires’ will be without two of their imports, Liberian midfielder Bill Sheriff and Signs Wonder Chibambo from Zambia  as officials are still at a loss to their whereabouts.

New coach Samson Siasia, who said he was consoled his team did not lose to Ahly, has admitted it will be tough going at the Stade 1er Novembre.

“We know they are a tough opposition, North African clubs are very good and more organised. But on a good day, if we do what we’re supposed to do, getting a draw or winning outright is possible,” predicted Siasia.

Heartland, beaten Champions League finalists last year, will have to keep a close watch on the home team’s highly-rated Nigerian striker, Izu Azuka. The 22-year-old striker, who wears the number 1 shirt, has been at the Canaries since 2008 and has been scouted by several top clubs around the Maghreb.

There is also JSK leading scorer, Sid Ali Yahia-Cherif. The tall 25-year-old striker joined in 2009 has been capped by the country’s home-based team.

Against Ismaily, JSK were without new signing Billel Naili through injury and midfielder Idriss Ech-Chergui.


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