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Rivers United draw praises despite Confederation Cup failure

Rivers United’s quest to become the first Nigerian club to win a continental title after Enyimba’s back-to-back victories in the prestigious CAF Champions League in…

Rivers United’s quest to become the first Nigerian club to win a continental title after Enyimba’s back-to-back victories in the prestigious CAF Champions League in 2003 and 2004 evaporated into thin air last Sunday after they were eliminated from this year’s Confederation Cup at the quarter-final stage by Young Africans of Tanzania, 2-0 on aggregate.

The ‘Pride of Rivers’ as United are called won the Nigerian Premier Football League (NPFL) title last season and earned a spot in the CAF Champions League but were relegated to the Confederation Cup after their elimination from the elite competition.

A decent campaign in the second tier CAF inter-club competition ensured they finished second in Group B, behind Cote d’Ivoire’s ASEC Mimosas to reach the knockout stages where they were paired up with Young Africans.

However, a 0-2 home defeat in the first leg to the Tanzanian Premier League champions, and a 0-0 draw in the second leg of the quarter-final wasn’t enough to take the Nigerian champions through as Young Africans proceeded to the semi-finals against South Africa’s Marumo Gallants.

Malnutrition, threat to Nigerian children’s survival – FG

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While reacting to the mishap, Head Coach of Rivers United, Stanley Eguma, admitted that valuable lessons have been learnt while lauding his team’s performance in the competition.

“It’s disappointing to crash out of the competition; if we had a better game in the first leg, it would have been a different situation in the reverse fixture.

“One good thing is that we were able to secure the four slots for Nigeria in the continent, because qualifying to the group phase and going beyond to the quarter-final stage has secured Nigeria’s slots in the continent,” Eguma told a press conference.

A former captain of Nasarawa United, Emmanuel Makama, told Trust Sports that the improvement witnessed in the NPFL under the IMC will help the clubs in the continent next season.

“Rivers United are a good side and they represented Nigeria well on the continent. They were just unlucky to have lost the first leg against the Tanzanians.

“Now our league is improving and it is aligning with the other leagues in the world. We have just a few more games to complete the league.

“It is expected that the new season would start in time to enable clubs to prepare for continental assignments using NPFL matches. In the past, our clubs played friendly games while other leagues in other African countries were on,” he said.

In the same vein, Rivers United defender, Ebube Duru, said they are sad to have crashed out as they wanted to bring smiles to the faces of Nigerians.

“We tried our best to win the tie but this is why this game is called football. Of course, it has always been our desire to get to the finals but we were unlucky,” he said.

The Interim Management Company (IMC) revealed that it was pleased that a Nigerian club side got to the knockout stages of the Confederation Cup, adding that the body desires to always see Nigerian teams “go all the way” in continental competitions.

With their exit, the ‘Pride of Rivers’ will now focus on their outstanding matches in Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL), where a few matches are left in the abridged season.

Presently trailing Group B leaders, Lobi Stars, with as many as six points with three matches in hand, the Port Harcourt city based club must first fight to qualify for the Super 6 playoff in Lagos where they would have a chance to defend their title.

They will play the first of the three outstanding matches on Wednesday, May 10 against relegation bound Wikki Tourists at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Stadium in Bauchi.

But ahead of their rescheduled Week 15 fixture, Rivers United crashed out of another competition as they were bundled out of the 2023 Federation Cup on penalties.

In the Round of 64 match played on Thursday at the ‘Nest of Champions’ in Uyo, Rivers United held former African Champions, Enyimba to a 0-0 draw but lost 4-5 on penalties.

Despite Rivers United’s failure to break the Confederation Cup jinx, the reigning NPFL Champions have ensured that in 2024, Nigeria will still be represented by four clubs in CAF inter-club competitions, a feat that has made most Nigerians to be less critical of their performance in the continent.

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