Nigerian club-sides listed for actions in 2017 CAF club competitions were handed tough oppositions in the draws conducted in Cairo, Egypt yesterday.
Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) champions Rangers International FC of Enugu who are to fly the country’s flag in the continent’s premier club competition- the CAF Champions League, were paired with JS Saoura of Algeria in the preliminary round of the 2017 edition.
If the Flying Antelopes scale the hurdle posed by the Algerian team, they are scheduled to meet Egyptian giants, Zamalek in the next round.
Similarly, NPFL runners-up, Rivers United FC were handed AS Real de Bamako of Mali challenge in the preliminary round of the Champions League.
The Rivers State government owned United who were on playing tour of Spain as part of their preparations for the continental debut, are to meet the winner of the clash between Sony Ela Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and El-Merreikh of Sudan.
No Nigerian club has won the CAF Champions League since Enyimba defended the title in 2004. The former NPFL champions Enyimba made the group stage of the CAF Champions League last season but exited after the group stage.
In the CAF Confederation Cup, Bauchi club, Wikki Tourists, will be up against Sierra Leone opponents RSLAF FC. Wikki will clash with Tunisian side Club Africain if they can shake off RSLAF in the next round. Federation Cup winners, FC Ifeanyiubah, will have a Herculean task to edge past Egyptian side Al-Masry. Should the Nnewi club gets past Al-Masry, they will meet Malian side FC Djoliba in the next round.
Meanwhile, Rivers United’s pin up boy, Bernard Ovoke is relishing the prospect of playing against some of the finest footballers on the continent.
“We are ready for the Champions League. No one here is afraid (of facing the big teams).
“The pre-season preparations we had this year has been excellent and we are assuring Nigerians that we will do them proud next year,” he told the club’s website before the draws.
United will be motivated by the prospect of not only competing against the best but also going for the increased financial rewards in a new format which has seen the prize money increasing by 66.6 percent to $2.5 million (N788 million) for the champions.
The runners-up will receive $1.25 million (N394 million), semi-finalists $875,000 (N276 million), quarter-finalists $650,000 (N205 million) and the eight group stage qualifiers who fail to make the knockout stage $550,000 (N173 million) each.
CAF has cut the two-leg qualifying phase from three rounds to two and doubled the number of qualifiers for the mini-leagues from eight to 16.
The first leg of the preliminary round will be played between February 10 and 12 while the second leg will be from February 17 to 19. The first round will run from March 10 to 12 with the second leg billed for March 17-19.
Title-holders Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa is among eight previous winners of the CAF Champions League who will compete in the next year’s competition.
Only Al Ahly (Egypt), TP Mazembe (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Enyimba (Nigeria) have staged successful defences since the 1964 launch of the Champions League.
Ahly (2005-2006 and 2012-2013) and Mazembe (1967-1968 and 2009-2010) twice won back-to-back titles.