The Nigerian flag bearers are confident of a bright start on the continent in Africa’s elite competition
After finishing as the top two teams in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) last season, the duo of Enyimba and Kano Pillars are ready to represent Nigeria in the prestigious Caf Champions League again.
While Enyimba are two-time champions in this competition, Pillars’ best run was 10 years ago when they made their debut and went as far as the semi-final stage before they were knocked out by fellow Nigerian campaigners Heartland.
Since then, Sai Masu Gida have never made it past the first round, a disappointing trend they are determined to change as they make their sixth appearance in this Caf inter-club competition.
Unlike their compatriots Enyimba who have been pitched against a relatively unknown team in Rahimo FC in this preliminary stage, Pillars have their work cut out as they start against one of Ghana’s biggest clubs, Asante Kotoko.
The Porcupines are making their tenth appearance in the Champions League but with very little to show for their efforts as they have only made it as far as the group stage just once in 2006, albeit after a level of success in the competition’s former format.
Both Pillars and Kotoko are enjoying a good run of form going into Saturday’s tie as the duo are undefeated in their last five competitive outings.
Sai Masu Gida are further boosted with their triumph in the 2019 Federation Cup, a feat which ended over three decades of waiting for Cup glory.
Unfortunately for coach Ibrahim Musa’s side, they would be starting out on the continent with a somewhat depleted team as four first-team players could not be registered for this preliminary stage owing to late paperwork.
David Ebuka, Sunday Chinedu Adamu Hassan and Ali Malam are top on the list of high-profile names missing on the Pillars’ roster.
Kotoko also have a key player in Augustine Okrah ruled out of Saturday’s tie after the club failed to complete his registration in time for the game against Pillars.
His absence will surely be a great miss for the club as he was instrumental to Kotoko’s triumph in the Normalization Committee Special competition.
The winners after the two-legged tie between Pillars and Kotoko are billed to face Hafia FC of Guinea or Tunisian club Etoile du Sahel in the next stage.
As for Enyimba, they go into Saturday’s tie as NPFL champions and an experienced side with two African titles under their belt; a feat equalled or surpassed by only a few teams on the continent.
The People’s Elephant have been very busy in the transfer window. As succinctly put by the Enyimba coach, Usman Abd’Allah, the acquisition of new players was chiefly to aid the continental push.
“We got so many new players to join the team so that we can have more strength in the Champions League,” the coach said in an interview with the club’s website.
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“This is the beginning. We hope to win this one and to continue becoming stronger as the competition goes on.”
Saturday’s game will be staged at Burkina Faso’s national stadium, the prestigious 38,000 capacity Stade du 4 Août in Ouagadougou.
The People’s Elephant return home for the reverse fixture two weeks later at Aba International Stadium.