By Femi Solaja
Rivers United Football Club partially ended Nigeria’s misery in continental club football with a 2-0 win over visiting Rayon Sports of Rwanda in the first leg play-off CAF Confederation Cup second round of 16 fixture.
A brilliant goal from Ivoirian marksman, Guy Kuemian early in the second half and Emeka Atuloma’s sweetly-struck effort just before half time to put themselves in control of the playoff tie.
The other Nigerian representative, Enugu Rangers had crashed out 24 hours earlier in a comprehensive 3-0 defeat by Zesco United of Zambia after 2-2 first leg score line in Enugu last weekend.
But yesterday, Rivers United gave the country’s football fans something to cheer with the massive win in a match played at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium in Port Harcourt.
Emeka Ogbugh should have scored in the fourth minute when he turned his marker inside out only to drag his effort inches wide from eight yards.
Six minutes later, the ‘Pride of Rivers’ enjoyed a gilt-edged opening but the chance to get an early breakthrough went up in smoke as Bolaji Sakin hit his effort straight at the Rayon Sports goalkeeper, Ndayishinye Eric.
The visitors were meanwhile looking assured in possession, menacing in the final third and were unlucky not to score on two occasions inside the opening 25 minutes.
Sunday Rotimi was the saviour for United both times and in the first instance on 12 minutes, his heroic block saved the hosts embarrassment following a poorly-executed offside trap.
The assistant coach of the team, Willie Udube, in his post match comment said though his team won but they could not execute their game plan.
“We had our game plan. The match didn’t go the way we wanted and we ended up having only two goals. We are going home now to work on the players.
“We found out that the boys from Kigali are very good. They are ball jugglers. We need to neutralise the ball juggling spirit in them.
“While football is not mathematics, we have however learnt our lessons and I strongly believe that with hardwork, we will win in Kigali,” he said.
Udube said Rivers United were under pressure during the match because of the current form and position of the team in ongoing competitions.
“I want to say that we are under pressure. We are trying to pick the pieces and put the team together and get something.
“Before now, you will come here and watch a team that is winning with confidence. But now things are different and the boys have been losing confidence.
“It is left for the technical team to put confidence in the boys by encouraging them and teach them what to do,” he added.
Festus Austin, captain of Rivers United, said they had hoped to score more goals but succeeded in scoring only two goals.
“We hope to improve because I appreciate that the fact that our opponents our good.
The second leg match comes up on April 22nd athlete imposing 300,000 capacity Amahoro stadium in Kigali. Rivers United needs to avoid three goals deficit without scoring and be assured of a place in the group stage of the African club second tier club competition.