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Nigeria’s football on centrestage as Enyimba, Rivers United tackle Africa

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They were initially four, but tomorrow Enyimba and Rivers United will begin the process of maintaining Nigeria’s presence in Confederation of African Football (CAF) inter-club competitions.

Nigeria started the campaign for honours in African club football with Plateau United, Enyimba, Rivers United and Kano Pillars, but Plateau United and Pillars were eliminated in the first hurdle, leaving the Peoples Elephant and Pride of Rivers to carry the country’s banner in Africa.

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Today at the Al Hilal Stadium, Omdurman, Enyimba will meet Sudan’s Al Merreikh in the first leg of their second qualifying round CAF Champions League tie. The winner over two legs will move to the last stage of the journey, which is the group phase of the competition.

Enyimba has a history with Sudanese clubs at the Al Hilal Stadium in Omdurman. On three previous occasions, the Peoples Elephant had met Sudan’s biggest club Al Hilal in the CAF Champions League.

In July 18, 2008, Enyimba lost 2-3 to Al Hilal in a Group B game with Stephen Nworgu and Cletus Itodo getting the goals for the Aba side.

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In the penultimate round of matches of the group stage, Enyimba needed a result in Omdurman to stay ahead of Al Hilal in the log, and the two times champions did it in style. Despite trailing to Edward Sadomba’s first-half goal, The People’s Elephant came back trumpeting in the second half with two goals from dead-ball situations – Valentine Nwabali’s exquisite freekick and Samuel Twanya penalty. The result ultimately helped Enyimba to finish top of the Champions League group. September 29, 2019

Enyimba’s last outing in Omdurman in a Champions League first round fixture against Al HIlal ended 0-1 in favour of the homes side.

Such is the history that Enyimba head coach, Fatai Osho, is working against.

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Speaking on today’s game, Osho said his boys must raise their game to survive against an ambitious Al Merreikh.

He told local radio station, Brila.net, that his players know the enormity of the task before them and are primed to confront the dangers headlong.

“We have to raise our heads above waters and be resilient… we know what we want and we have to go for it and we are quite aware that it won’t be easy, the Sudanese side are a good side,” Osho said.

Enyimba defeated Rahimo of Burkina Faso 2-1 on aggregate in the preliminaries to get to this round..

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Rivers United’s journey in the CAF Confederation Cup has not been that smooth. The Port Harcourt-based team got to this stage of the competition courtesy of a 2-0 penalty shoot defeat of Futuro Kings of Equitorial Guinea when the two legs of the tie could not separate the teams.

Futuro Kings won the first leg 2-1 at home and lost by the same margin in the revers fixture in Port Harcourt.

The Stanley Eguma-led Rivers United planned to make this tie an easier one, but they were forced to go through ‘hell’ by South African officials to even make today’s first leg. But the team is undaunted.

Eguma and his boys will line out against Bloemfontein Celtic at the Dr. Petrus Molemela Stadium hoping to get the result that would make the second leg easier than the tie against Futuro Kings.

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Although he admitted that the South Africans would be hard nuts to crack, Eguma said his team has not come this far to let Nigerians down.

“We are expecting nothing but a tough match in South Africa and we have understood that this competition requires the best from the player, the technical crew, and the management.

“We need to work round the clock to ensure we get good results because as it stands now, the state government and Nigerians, in general, are behind the team and we can’t afford to let them down, not even at time that our brothers (Kano Pillars and Plateau United) have been knocked out of the competition.”

The second of the match will be played at the Adokiye Amiesimaka stadium in Port Harcourt next year January.

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