Thursday, February 12, 2015

Nigerian clubs begin African Odyssey

Nigeria’s representative in Africa Club competitions will kick start their campaign this weekend hoping to put Nigerian clubs back on the map in Africa.

Glo Premier League cha,champions Kano Pillars, Enyimba of Aba, Warri Wolves and Dolphins of Port-Harcourt will Nigeria’s flag bearers this term out.

Pillars and Enyimba will play in the Caf Champions League while Wolves and Dolphins will fly the flag in the Confederations Cup.

Nigerian clubs have not been visible on the continent lately, with Sunshine Stars semi finals appearance in the Confederations Cup in 2012 being the best the country can boast of in the last three years.

This term, the four clubs will look to change all that, but the signs, going into this weekend has done nothing to make the average fan hopeful of kleig lights at the end of the campaign.

Financial issues have crept up again. This recurring decimal has refused to go away as Nigerian clubs once again, are pressing the self destruct button.

The crux of the matter is that all the three clubs bar Pillars are in dire straits financially. Dolphins issues are well documented while Warri Wolves also haven't fared any better.

Enyimba International were able to pull two bricks off the shoulders of their players this week by paying 15% of last season’s match bonuses with the hope that it will motivate the players to give their all this weekend.

Caf Champions League

Reigning Glo Premier League champions Kano Pillars will start another adventure in Africa this weekend when they take the trip to Juba, South Sudan to play Al Malaika.

The Masu-Gida boys have been able to shore up their squad with the acquisition of striker Christian Obiozor from Rangers and Nasarawa United’s attacking midfielder Tony Edjomarigwe.

Goalkeepers’ John Lawrence and Niyi Fabiyi have also signed on the dotted lines for Pillars while Reuben Ogbonnaya, Ekpai Ubong and Anefiok Godspower have arrived Kano to bolster the squad.

The key element here is that the core of the squad has remained intact. Rabiu Ali, Gambo Mohammed, Theophilus Afelokhai, Shagari Mohammed are all around to good measure while the team also has Okey Emordi, who won the title with Enyimba in 2004 steering the ship and it will be hoped he brings his experience to bear.

Kadiri Ikhana

Pillars have just returned from a training tour of Ghana where they played friendly games that should hopefully put them in the right shape for the away trip to South Sudan.

The four time Glo Premier League champions were knocked out of the Caf Champions League last year at the last hurdle before the group stage by eventual finalist AS Vita of Congo. Hopefully, they should have learnt from that lesson and take a step further this time around.

2003 and 2004 Caf Champions League winners Enyimba haven't been the power house they were a decade ago. Knocked out in the first round of the 2014 edition, thy will be looking to get back on track to win the trophy they last won 11 years ago.

That may actually be a long journey to perdition as the case may be because Enyimba haven’t exactly lit up yet.

A yo-yo performance at the Super Four Invitational tournament in Abuja didn't do much to inspire confidence and despite the players being paid a small part of their entitlements, there is still a lot of rancour in the side.

Hopefully this shouldn't affect their performance on the pitch against Buffles du Borgou FC of Benin Republic on Sunday.

Coach Kadiri Ikhana, who won the Caf Champions League trophy with the Aba side in 2003, will hope he can steer the ship towards glory 12 years after.

Club Captain Chinedu Udoji will lead the old cast of Emmanuel Anyanwu, Markson Ojobo, Femi Thomas and Andrew Abalogu while the new lads Idris Aloma, Chima Uloucha, Onyekachi Okoye and Ifeanyi Anaemena will hope to be part of Enyimba’s resurgence on the continent.

Enyimba of Aba

Least season’s top scorer Mfon Udoh will sit this one out as he just resumed with the team while Nzube Anazemba will miss out through injury. Exciting midfielder Rasheed Olabiyi will also miss the game as he hasn't reported to camp yet.

Caf Confederations Cup

Nigeria will be represented in this year’s Confederations Cup by Warri Wolves and Dolphins of Port-Harcourt. However both teams are apparently not ready yet.

Dolphins have had a tubsy- turvy start to their preparation for the competition after finishing last at the Super Four tournament in Abuja organised by the League Management Company.

The team, led by Stanley Eguma shouldn't have much difficulties overcoming Equatorial Guinea opponents Leones Vegetarianos, but they need to be at their best considering Vegerarianos have a host of players from the Equatorial National team that finished fourth at the just concluded Africa Cup of Nations which the country hosted.

Dolphins have lost striker Emem Edouk to Esperance of Tunisia and midfielder Stone Evbuomwan to Arab Contractors of Egypt but secured a major coup by capturing former Sharks striker Christian Pyagbara, who is more than capable of alleviating the loss of Edouk.

Festus Austin also back in the team but might not get to feature yet as his registration for the competition is incomplete.

Veteran goalkeeper Sunday Rotimi is back in the fold after deciding to stay with the former champions despite interests from Akure side Sunshine Stars.

The bulk of the squad is still intact and it is expected that the likes of Tijani Adamu, Emeka Atuloma, Jonathan Zikiye, Victor Alegbe and Joseph Douhadji should see Dolphins over the line in the preliminary round of the CAF Confederations Cup

Warri Wolves have a tougher task against Racing Club de Bobo-Dioulasso (RCB) of Burkina Faso in their first leg away game.

The Burkinabes are tough customers on the continent and the Warri boys will have to put behind them their money troubles if they hope to make an appreciable impact in the competition.

The team has been holed up in the hilly plains of Ughelli perfecting their art as they hope to repeat that wonderful performance that saw them whip Kano Pillars 3-1 on match day four at the Super Four tournament. Two goal hero on match Sikiru Adewale will be the main man for Wolves after Gbolahan Salami left the seasiders for Red Star Belgrade of Serbia.

Warri Wolves pair of Abu Azeez and Joe Eyimofe

Wolves also lost Ike ThankGod to Fanja of Oman in but coach Paul Aigbogun will count on regulars like Abu Azeez, Daniel Akpeyi, Michael Egbeta, Joseph Okoyoh and Onamodo Goodluck to see off RCB.
Club captain Azubuike Egwuekwe is back in the country after his sojourn to Israel came to nought, however his fitness remains a concern.

Hopefully, this weekend will should bring good tidings to football fans in Nigeria after the Super Eagles missed the continental fiesta in Equatorial Guinea. The season of anticipated renaissance is upon, but the clubs need to make sure it starts on a good note.

Match ups:

Caf Champions League preliminary stage

Enyimba v Buffles du Borgou FC (Benin Republic)

Al Malaika (South Sudan) vs Kano Pillars

Caf Confederations Cup

Racing Club de Bobo-Dioulasso (Burkina Faso) vs Warri Wolves

 Leones Vegetarianos (Equatorial Guinea) vs Dolphins

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