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NPFL trio in make-or-mar continental battles

Nigeria’s representatives in the continent, Enyimba, Remo Stars and Bendel Insurance are faced with early exit from their respective CAF inter-club competitions after they had…

Nigeria’s representatives in the continent, Enyimba, Remo Stars and Bendel Insurance are faced with early exit from their respective CAF inter-club competitions after they had shaky starts in the first leg of the first Preliminary Round matches played last weekend.

Although the country is having four representatives, only the trio was in action last weekend as Rivers United have been drawn bye and would join the fray as the Confederation Cup progresses.

The two CAF Champions League representatives, Enyimba and Remo Stars suffered slim losses away to Al-Ahly Benghazi of Libya and Medeama SC of Ghana respectively while Bendel Insurance managed a slim 1-0 win over Aso Chelf of Algeria at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City.

The former African Champions put up a spirited fight against Al-Ahly Benghazi but were poor defensively. Therefore, they lost 3-4 which automatically put their campaign in jeopardy.

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Their compatriots, Remo Stars suffered a slim 0-1 loss in Cape Coast Ghana which has given them a glimmer of hope that they can still progress to the next round, if they put their acts together this weekend in Ikenne.

These contrasting results posted by the trio have no doubt set the stage for a difficult weekend as the NPFL clubs are expected to surmount the hurdles before them.

Therefore, all eyes will be on the Aba Township Stadium where Enyimba will be battling on Sunday to survive in the hands of the Libyans who themselves have a mountain to climb having conceded three goals at the Martyrs of February Stadium in Benghazi in last weekend’s clash.

Enyimba’s top striker, Chijioke Mbaoma, while speaking to CAF media said he remains confident in his team’s ability to overcome the first leg deficit and emerge victorious against Al- Ahly Benghazi in the return match.

With the expected home advantage, Mbaoma believes Enyimba can still progress in the CAF Champions League.

“We are not satisfied, but we have to be satisfied with ourselves and look forward to the next step,” Mbaoma said.

“They played and won at home. Now is the time for us to play with our fans and show them what we can do too.”

‘The Peoples Elephants’ have lost the first leg battle, but scoring three away goals has no doubt given them a glimmer of hope.

Mbaoma, the experienced striker, proved his attacking prowess despite the defeat and will play a vital role in Enyimba’s quest to overturn the 4-3 aggregate scoreline.

With his leadership, Enyimba are aiming to either take the match to penalties or secure an outright victory in Sunday’s decisive game.

He has challenged his teammates to harness the support of their home crowd and showcase their quality at this critical moment.

Although they have an uphill task on their hands, Enyimba can also boast of their new acquisition, Joseph Atule, who has the capacity to hurt the Libyans to keep their continental aspirations alive.

In Ikenne, Remo Stars will aim to avert the tragedy that befell them last season when they crashed out at this same stage in the Confederation Cup.

It will be recalled that after putting up a spirited fight against FAR Rabat of Morocco in the first leg of their first preliminary round match which ended 1-1, Remo Stars returned home full of optimism but were shocked 0-1 to suffer an inglorious exit from the competition.

This is what the ‘Blue Sky’ boys will try to avoid on Sunday as they welcome Ghanaian champions, Medeama SC who piped them 1-0 in Cape Coast in their first-ever meeting.

One of the most organised and privately owned clubs in the NPFL, Remo Stars are certainly motivated that after keeping the scoreline in Cape Coast very low, they can easily upturn the result at home to progress.

However, the same can’t be said of the reigning Federation Cup Champions, Bendel Insurance who only managed to win 1-0 at home against the more illustrious ASO Chlef of Algeria.

It was the ‘Benin Arsenals’ first continental appearance in 34 years and they had to labour hard for the narrow win which has put them in a tight corner as they must avoid defeat to stop their opponents from upstaging them in today’s return leg.

As usual, Insurance will rely heavily on their weapon of destruction, Imade Osarenkhoe, who scored the only goal last weekend to give them a faint hope going into the make-or-mar clash at Stade Mabrouki Salem.

Before they departed for the crucial match, the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, charged the ‘gunners’ to fire on all cylinders in Chelf.

“I am sure you are prepared for the Algerian journey. I know that the team knows what to do and I am sure you will play better there than in Benin City because you were anxious about the home crowd.

“You have nothing to lose in this encounter but everything to gain. They are old men, and I know they don’t have stamina. I am here to see you, motivate you, and ensure you are in good spirits,” said Obaseki.

As Nigerians continue to express divergent views on the daunting tasks before the Nigerian representatives this weekend, a former Green Eagles captain and former Super Eagles coach, Christian Chukwu, has told Trust Sports that Enyimba and Remo Stars might make it through but Bendel Insurance will face a tricky test in far away Algeria.

“The teams have bright chances of qualifying for the next round. Enyimba did well to score three goals away but they have to ensure they don’t lose at home. A 1-0 win will be good enough to take them through.

“It is the same for Remo Stars. Losing 0-1 away is a fairly good result which means they have to get the win at home. A two goal advantage is good for the team. But it will be tricky for Bendel Insurance playing away. We know the antics North Africans use when playing at home,” he said.

A former Super Eagles midfielder, Dahiru Sadi, also shared in Chukwu’s optimism as he said “Enyimba did well by scoring three away goals. They only need to work well on their defence and maintain their form upfront.

“Remo Stars did well too and they have a bright chance to make it, if they stick together. Luckily, these teams are playing at home and they should make good use of that advantage.

“The only issue is Insurance whose slim 1-0 win isn’t good enough now that they will be playing away. But generally, our teams will do well.”

Meanwhile, Rivers United, known for their consistent participation in CAF interclub competitions, have been granted a bye in the early rounds.

They will now await the winner between Etoile Filante and Ziguinchor to begin their campaign in the Confederation Cup in the second preliminary round.

This has no doubt presented an exciting opportunity for the ‘Pride of Rivers’ to secure a place in the lucrative group stage. It will be recalled that they went as far as the quarter-finals in last year’s Confederation Cup.

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