Four years after Rangers International were disqualified at the quarter final playoff round of the CAF Confederation Cup for fielding an ineligible player in the first leg against eventual winners, CS Sfaxien of Tunisia, the Nigerian league champions are back in the hunt for a continental diadem.
Today in Bechar, Algeria, the Flying Antelopes will be looking to gain advantage against hosts JS Saoura in the first leg of the preliminary round of the CAF Champions League. The match will kick off from 5pm Nigerian time.
The only time Rangers won a continental trophy was in the defunct CAF Winners’ Cup in 1977 after a 5-2 aggregate win over Cameroonian side, Canon. And the man who led the Pride of the Old Eastern Region to lift the trophy as captain, Christian Chukwu, is the one that led the Enugu team on the trip to Algeria.
Imama Amapakabo who led Rangers to end their 32-year wait for a Nigerian trophy is surely banking on the sharp reflexes of Ghanaian shot stopper, Nana Bonsu with the defensive experiences of Senegalese import, Pape Ousmane Sane, Orji Kalu, Ugwu Uwadiegwu, Mathew Etim, Chidiebere Okolie and Chizoba Amaefule to curtail the host.
Of course, Christian Madu, Godwin Aguda, Obinna Nwobodo, Charles Henlong and Chiamaka Madu will be saddled with the task of screening the middle of the pack as Bobby Clement, Osas Okoro and Ocheme Edoh probes the rear guard of the Algerians for the needed goals to stay safe in the competition.
Although tiff over the paltry allowance of $190 (about N95,000) handed out to each of the players before leaving Lagos has been resolved, the Flying Antelopes appear determined to make bold statement of returning to the summit of the game in the continent.
Team Captain, Matthew Etim, revealed before leaving Lagos for Algeria that the entire squad is upbeat and ready for the task against JS Saoura, who are not regular campaigners in the continental club championship.
“We are indeed very glad to be selected to defend the colours of Rangers on the continent and hopefully we shall not disappoint. Victory is what we are targeting and I believe that we have all it takes to achieve our target in Algeria.
“We know that they are a good side but we are better”, stated the defender who only had his first game in the 1-0 loss to neighbours, F.C Ifeanyiubah in a Match-day six encounter of the Nigerian Premier Football League (NPFL).
Team Manager, Amobi Ezeaku, said, “Rangers is physically, mentally and psychologically prepared for this encounter and victory is our target in Algeria. We are fully motivated for this battle.
“We are in Algeria with the bulk of players that helped us broke a 32-year trophy jinx last season and that will work in our favour. Also the quartet of Uwadiegwu Ugwu, Daniel Etor, Chizoba Amaefule and Charles Henlong, all seasoned continental campaigners will bring their experience to the table,” stressed the team manager.
Saoura, runner-up to USM Alger in last season’ campaign are not also in the best of shapes. They are placed seventh on the standings after managing seven wins, six draws and six losses from 19 games.
The second leg will take place on 19 February 2017 with winner facing Egyptian giants, Zamalek at the 1/16th round.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s other representatives in the CAF Champions League, Rivers United arrived Mali yesterday ahead of their first leg preliminary round CAF Champions League clash with Real Bamako on Saturday.
Media Officer of the team, Sammy Wejinya, confirmed that the contingent which comprised of 20 players and 13 officials left the country via the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos at exactly 9.40am and arrived at Houphouet Boigny International Airport, Abidjan at 10.20am Nigerian time.
*CAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
FRIDAY, 10 February 2017
JS Saoura (Algeria) vs Enugu Rangers (Nigeria)
SATURDAY, 11 February 2017
AS Real (Mali) vs Rivers United (Nigeria)
*CAF CONFEDERATION CUP (Sunday)
FC IfeanyiUbah (Nigeria) Vs Al Masry (Egypt)
Royal Armed Forces (S’Leone) Vs Wikki Tourists (Nigeria)