After failing to make their presence count at the last African Nations Championship in Rwanda, Nigeria League stars again have the opportunity to prove to their critics that they are at par with, if not better than, their contemporaries across other leagues in Africa.
Four teams from the Nigeria Premier League with almost 100 players will again be flying the country’s flag in this season’s CAF Club competitions, the Champions League and Confederation Cup.
While Nasarawa United and Akwa United will be contesting for honours in the Confed Cup, Warri Wolves and Enyimba will be the ones to slug it out in the Champions League.
Enyimba Top Guns
Going by the pedigree of the quartet on parade, it is easy to submit that Enyimba remains Nigeria’s biggest hope of ruling in any of the two competitions.
With two African titles already to their name, Enyimba will begin their quest to win a third CAF Champions League Friday afternoon when they face hosts Vipers Sports Club at the Nakivubo Stadium in Kampala, Uganda.
After taking the continent by storm, winning the Champions League back-to-back in 2003 and 2004, Enyimba has struggled to re-enact the form which saw them conquer Africa over a decade ago.
In their last attempt, Enyimba crashed out in the first round of the competition in 2014.
Interestingly, the Peoples’ Elephant are beaming with renewed optimism this term especially after clinching a record seventh Nigeria league title and they are now confident they can go all the way yet again.
The chairman of the Aba-based club, Felix Anyasi-Agwu, believes the team have done what is necessary to help them make a statement in the 2016 Champions League.
“The Champions League is our major target this season, the preparation has been very good for us and we have invested a lot in bringing in a good number of quality players that we know can help us, we have learnt from our past mistakes and we are working hard not to repeat same thing this term,” the Enyimba boss stated.
Indeed, Enyimba have done quite much in players’ recruitment as the newly hired Coach Paul Aigbogun has several of the country’s top league stars like goalkeeper Theofilus Afelokhai from Kano Pillars and Kwara United midfielder Dare Ojo, all in his present squad.
However, while Enyimba is banking on its new recruits, same cannot be said of the other Champions League campaigners, Warri Wolves, who have suffered mass exodus in the off season.
The likes of Gbolahan Salami, Abu Azeez, and captain Azubieke Egwueke, who all played key roles in seeing Warri Wolves qualify for the champions League for the first time in the club’s history, have all left for the proverbial greener pastures.
Nonetheless, Wolves’ new boss, Moses Etu, maintains there is no cause for alarm as they have also brought in players to fill the vacuum.
The Seasiders’, as Warri Wolves are fondly referred to, will get their baptism in the Champions League on Sunday as they battle Sao Tome and Principle’s champions, Club Sporting Praia Cruz, at the Warri City Stadium.
For many, nothing for now suggests that Warri Wolves are ready for the African challenge as the new chief coach in Sam Okpodu did not do well at the just-ended Super 4, which was put together by the League Management Company (LMC).
In all of the pessimism, goalkeeper Dele Ajiboye who just joined Warri Wolves, told PREMIUM TIMES that his side would be one of the pleasant surprises in the Champions League this season.
“How can you write us off even before our first match, Super 4 is just to help our preparations, expect a new Warri Wolves when the Champions League and Premier League begins,” Ajiboye, who won the FIFA U17 World cup for Nigeria in 2003, said.
For the Confederation Cup, Nigeria’s hopes are pinned against two greenhorns Akwa United and Nasarawa United.
Despite being seen as underdogs, Chairman of Nasarawa United, Isaac Danladi, has promised Nigerians a handsome win when his side take on visiting Senegalese outfit, AS Academie Generation Foot, in Sunday’s CAF Confederations Cup first round clash.
Players and officials of Nasarawa United are already in Abuja and Danladi told thenff.com that his players were all focused on getting the job done against the Senegalese.
“Our preparations are geared towards achieving a handsome win, in order to make the second leg an easier session for us.
“Playing at home first, or playing at the National Stadium, Abuja is no disadvantage. Rather, we see everything as an opportunity to confirm how much progress Nasarawa United has made over the years.”
The Solid Miners, who were last season dubbed the NPFL giant killers, opted for the National Stadium, Abuja, as their home ground as Lafia stadium is presently undergoing renovation.
Also this weekend, Nigeria’s other flag bearer in the CAF Confederation Cup, Super 4 champions Akwa United, will face Club Mokanda of Congo.
Though Akwa United have shown traces of brilliance on the home front and have also engaged the services of veteran Coach, Maurice Cooreman, much more will be needed from them if they are to navigate past their Congolese opponents this week.
For former Nigeria international, Friday Ekpo, it will be nice to see Akwa United escape with at least a draw at the Pointe-Noire Stadium and then come to finish off with a home win at the Nest of Champions in the second leg.
“Starting away in Congo will be tough for Akwa United, if they secure a draw that would be a good start for them, they can finish off at home,” Ekpo told PREMIUM TIMES.
No Nigerian team have emerged champions in the Confederation Cup in its present format. Bayelsa United came the closest in 2009 when they narrowly missed making the finals.