BY SAMMY WEJINYA.
Ten-man Rivers United FC of Nigeria on Saturday knocked reigning Rwanda Peace Cup champions, Rayon Sports out of the 2017 CAF Confederation Cup after a drama-filled goalless draw in the return leg of the playoff round at a rocking Amahoro Stadium in Kigali.
Rayon Sports were required to win 2-0 to take the tie into extra time or 3-0 to win it outright and advance the group stage but ‘Gikundiro’ met an immovable object in the shape of the ‘Pride of Rivers’.
United played with a man less for more than half an hour in the second half against a Rayon side back by a vociferous home crowd but grit, resolve and the never-say-die-Nigerian spirit was evident in the gladiatorial display which eventually proved to be the tide that carried Nigeria’s sole survivor in 2017 Inter CAF club competitions to safety.
United withstood predictable early pressure from the hosts and nearly silenced the Amahoro by snatching a shock lead, albeit an own goal, by Rayon Sports in the 18th minute.
Sakin did well to cross from the left but his dangerous delivery was diverted away for a corner by Jerry Mutsinzi with Guy Kuemian lurking on his shoulder.
Ten minutes later, the United players heaved a collective sigh of relief to see the score still even as Kwizera Pierrot curled a free kick inches wide from 25 yards but the boys from Nigeria seemed to exemplify men on a mission.
They hit back almost immediately through Sakin who almost gave them the lead on the stroke of half time but saw his volley fly just over Ndayisimiye Eric’s right hand post with the Rayon Sports goalkeeper in no man’s land.
Rayon predictably stepped on the accelerator after the break but met the United rear guard in uncompromising form.
As the Rwandans pressed further up the pitch, United looked to exploit gaping holes and almost made them pay in the 54th minute when Emeka Ogbugh embarked on a mazy run on the right only to see his strike from a tight angle fly inches over the bar.
Three minutes later, Rayon Sports seemed to have been handed a lifeline as Ifeanyi Nweke received a red card for catching Savio Dominique with a high boot.
Rayon could smell blood; they honed in for the kill with wave after wave of unrelenting attacks but the Nigerians stood their ground, defending in gladiatorial fashion to produce a heroic shut out.
Nahimana Shassir almost set up a grand stand finish with a superb effort that almost crept into Rotimi’s far post late in the second half but Lady luck was wearing a white vest on the day!
Rayon Sports head coach, Masoud Djuma was predictably downcast at full time but praised United as deserved winners of the tie.
“We lost to a better and more experienced side today and I want to say congratulations to Rivers United for their qualification,” Djuma exclusively told official www.riversunitedfc.com.ng.
Technical manager of Rivers United, Stanley Eguma also took the time to discuss his side’s progress to the group stage of the CAF Confederation Cup at the club’s first time of asking.
“It was a tough match but it was what we expected. We had a tactical plan and even after we had a man sent off, we did not panic. I am pleased that we were able to get the job done and qualify for the group stage of the competition,” he said.