Nigerian club side, Rivers United have completed a double win over Young Africans of Tanzania to book their place in the first round of the CAF Champions League.
Rivers United will face Al Hilal of Sudan in the first round of the competition.
The goal, scored in the 89th minute by the newly signed player from Plateau United Uche Onwuasonaya, gave the Pride of Rivers a 1-0 to progress 2-0 on aggregate.
It was a tight encounter at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium in Port Harcourt, but coach Stanley Eguma’s second half substitutions made the difference.
In the first leg of the preliminary round game played in Dar es Salam, Moses Omoduemuke scored a crucial goal to give Rivers United a lone goal victory to consolidate upon in the second leg and they did just that.
At the Samson Siasia Sports Stadium in Yenagoa, Bayelsa United defeated Ashanti Golden Boys of Guinea 4-2 in the first leg preliminary round of the CAF Confederation Cup.
Goals from Favour Martins, Emo James and a brace by Okardi Inikurogha did the job for the Aiteo Cup champions.
Egyptian club Al Ahly won a record-extending 10th CAF Champions League title on Saturday with a 3-0 final victory over 10-man South African rivals Kaizer Chiefs in Casablanca.
Mohamed Sherif scored his sixth goal of the competition after 53 minutes to put the Cairo Red Devils ahead at an empty Stade Mohammed V because of the coronavirus pandemic.
A brilliant goal from Mohamed ‘Afsha’ Magdy on 64 minutes left little doubt about the outcome in a disappointing finale to the marquee African club competition.
Amr el Sulaya rubbed salt into the wounds of Chiefs with a third goal in the 74th minute, slamming a back-heel past Nigerian goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi.
Chiefs were struggling to contain Ahly late in the first half when they suffered a massive blow with the red-carding of Happy Mashiane.
The forward stamped on the right leg of full-back Ahmed Tawfik and, after initially flashing a yellow card, the Burundi referee checked the foul on a monitor and changed his decision.
It was a historic victory for Ahly, who became the first club to win the title back-to-back three times.
South Africa-born Ahly coach Pitso Mosimane, who supported Chiefs as a child, became the first African coach to win the competition three times.
He succeeded in 2016 with South African club Mamelodi Sundowns, and again with Ahly last season in an all-Egyptian final against fierce rivals Zamalek.
Ahly pocket $2.5 million for winning the Champions League and are guaranteed at least another $3.5 million when they compete in the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.
Before travelling to the Far East, the Egyptian club that have won 22 African titles will play CAF Confederation Cup winners Raja Casablanca of Morocco in a one-off match for the CAF Super Cup.
It was a bitterly disappointing first appearance in the final by Chiefs, whose lone CAF title came 21 years ago when they won the now-defunct African Cup Winners Cup.
The Soweto outfit matched Ahly early on and had the lone shot on target in the opening half with an effort by Serbian forward Samir Nurkovic that Ahly goalkeeper and captain Mohamed el Shenawy comfortably saved.
Starting the second half with 10 men, Chiefs packed their defence in the hope of snatching victory through a breakaway goal or a penalty shootout.
But the resistance lasted just eight minutes before being undone by a superb pass from Tawfik that Sherif chipped over Akpeyi.
Plateau United coach, Abdul Maikaba has accused Simba SC of Tanzania of poor sportsmanship, which he believes is responsible for his team’s early exit from the CAF Champions League.
Plateau United held the hosts to a goalless draw in Dar-Es-Salaam but losing 1-0 in the first leg in Jos showed them the way of the tournament in the preliminary round.
In an exclusive interview with Channels Sports, Coach Maikaba praised his team for making improvements and blamed the hosts for going against rules of fair play and sportsmanship to advance in the competition.
With a tone exuding confidence, Coach Abdul Maikaba told Channels Sports that the sole goal of Plateau was to achieve victory in Tanzania and advance to the next round of the CAF Champions League.
According to him, the boys were disappointed after the loss in Jos and were charged to make amends by giving all they had in the second leg match.
“Actually our performance was far better than what we played at home because, with the experience of the game we played in Jos, we understood our opponent more and planned our strategy very well,” the 55-year-old gaffer explained.
“If not for the pranks played by Simba, they played a lot of pranks outside the game to ensure they frustrate us.’’
Struggling to express his disappointment, Coach Maikaba said Simba’s antics can destroy the reputation of the competition.
“It got to an extent where they tried to stop some of our players entry into their country. They kept wasting our time at the airport and they pinpoint two players, Sunday Adetunji and Abubakar Ibrahim because they performed well in Jos, they didn’t want them to be part of the game, including our goalkeeper,” Maikaba stated.
“When we arrived at our hotel, we met some medical officials who said we have to undergo COVID-19 tests. We got in late, needed to train for an hour which was the time they gave us to use the match venue, yet they were insisting we have the tests.
“We asked that they come back 30 minutes so we train but they refused and informed us they will return in 10 minutes but they didn’t return until 2 hours later. So, we left them and went on with our training. They eventually returned, did the tests and held on to it till we concluded our warm-up to the match.”
He further narrated that “Five minutes to kick-off, the match commissioner informed us that five of our players tested positive to COVID-19. The information shocked us, we knew it was their plan to frustrate and intimidate us. We told them we won’t play the match because the result is coming late.”
“Later, the catch commissioner returned with a different list that had two players, Sunday Adetunji, Abubakar Ibrahim who were their main targets, our general manager, my chief coach and one other official,” Coach Maikaba told Channels Sports.
Sunday Adetunji joined Plateau United in September this year following his return to Nigeria after a short-lived spell at Czech Republic side FK Pribram B.
Coach Maikaba described his move to the Jos-based team as fantastic and was banking on him to make a difference in Dar-es-salaam.
“Sunday Adetunji and the right-back, Abubakar Ibrahim were part of the starting eleven for the match, we had to replace them three minutes to the commencement of the game,” he added.
The coach noted that Adetunji’s absence was a huge blow to the ambition of his team.
“Right now we are at a different hospital, we want to do the test again with all those affected because 24 hours before we left Nigeria, the entire team tested negative to COVID-19. It is a shock to us that some became positive in Tanzania, less than 48 hours. If our verification results come out negative, it means they lied and we will take our case to the Confederation of African Football (CAF).”
Plateau United lost 1-0 to the Tanzanian champions in the first leg in Jos after losing vital chances to win it. Clatous Chama scored the winning goal for the visitors in the 53rd minute to make it a difficult task for the Nigerian team in the second leg.
Coach Maikaba agrees his team should have done better in the first leg match. “Of course I regret that result,” he admitted.
“But we gave our best and that’s what we could give because the truth is that we lacked match fitness. That was the first official game we played in nine months. It is difficult.
“If you are lucky, you will meet a team with the same problems you have, but we met a team with an edge in playing games, they had played eleven games in their league. That is the truth. But playing that game in Jos improved our match fitness and made us better in the second leg in Tanzania.”
Lessons for Nigeria
Playing continental football provides a good learning experience for participating clubs. Nigerian teams have a rich participation record in the CAF Champions League and Confederations Cup but struggle to put the lessons into good use.
Coach Maikaba believes with valuable experiences in continental competitions, it is time for the country to start making positive changes with football.
“Let’s take Simba SC as a case study. In a small country like Tanzania, if you see their organization, it is far better than any club in Nigeria. The fans all in red and they got to the stadium three hours before the kick-off time. If not for CAF’s restriction of 30% capacity of the stadium, it would have packed and that’s total support for their team,” coach Maikaba stated.
He continued, “They also have a beautiful stadium with good training pitches. When you see how they operate, you’ll agree we need a better structure. They have good sponsorship; in Nigeria, it’s the reverse. Nigerian clubs lack sponsorship, we all rely on government to do things.
“Playing continental football requires a lot of preparation and you need proper investment to achieve that. For instance, we arrived in Tanzania, 24 hours to the game and that’s difficulty right there. For the first leg match in Jos, Simba arrived in Nigeria three days before the game; so you can see the difference?”
Coach Maikaba stated that corporate organisations must come into Nigerian football for it to grow. He admitted the problem is worrisome because it is deeply rooted in the grassroots.
“This exodus of our players happen right from the grassroots. Most of the discovered players from the grassroots don’t even play in the league. They just go straight to Europe. The best players in the country are owned by academies and these academies are not grooming players for the league, they ship them to Europe because of the money and in a way, you can’t blame them because it is business and they don’t believe their players will grow in the local league. The movement is not helping the league, we need quality players for the league to grow.”
The former Akwa United manager said that Nigeria must make an all-round improvement in football management to achieve good performance in the CAF champion League or Confederation Cup competitions.
Mountain of Fire and Miracles Football Club are unlikely to win the 2018 CAF Champions League, but they boast the most eye-catching name among the 58 contenders.
Known as MFM FC in football circles, the Lagos-based team are funded by the popular pentecostal christian organisation Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries.
Nigeria are allocated two places on merit in the elite African club competition and they will be filled by national champions Plateau United and runners-up MFM.
The draw for the preliminary and first rounds of the Champions League will be made in Cairo on Wednesday at the headquarters of the Confederation of African Football.
Mountain of Fire and Miracles, who play in a modest 5,200-seat stadium, boast one of the most striking football club names in Africa.
Others include 11 Men in Flight of Swaziland, Mysterious Dwarfs of Ghana, Chicken Inn of Zimbabwe, Invincible XI of Liberia and Naughty Boys of Botswana.
Nigerians hope Plateau and MFM can go far in a competition where many clubs from the African football powerhouse have made embarrassingly early exits.
Last year, Enugu Rangers and Rivers United failed to get past the first round and into the group phase with the latter surrendering a three-goal first-leg advantage.
Enyimba are the only Nigerian club to win the Champions League, lifting the trophy in 2003 and staging a successful defence the following year.
Alongside record eight-time champions Al Ahly of Egypt and TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo, they are the only three clubs to win back-to-back Champions League titles.
Ahly and five-time title-holders Mazembe are among the 58 entrants in a competition won for a second time by Wydad Casablanca of Morocco this year.
They edged Ahly 1-0 in the second leg of the final in Casablanca after exceeding expectations in Alexandria by forcing a 1-1 draw.
Esperance and Etoile Sahel of Tunisia, Entente Setif and Mouloudia Alger of Algeria, ASEC of the Ivory Coast, Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa and V Club of DR Congo are other former champions in the field.
AC Leopards of Congo Brazzaville, Al Merrikh of Sudan, Gor Mahia of Kenya, Horoya of Guinea and Stade Malien of Mali have won second-tier CAF competitions.
The two-leg preliminary round ties are scheduled for February and the first round for March with the opening group games during May.
It requires 14 or 16 matches to become African champions with the rewards including a $2.5 million (about 2.1 million euro) prize and qualification for the FIFA Club World Cup.