LOBI STARS, RANGERS AIM TO GO FURTHER IN AFRICA

BY APESIN ADEMOLA.

The campaign to have Nigerian clubs register impressive results in CAF club competitions sees Lobi Stars and Enugu Rangers on the road as two tournaments conclude the first leg of their first round matches this weekend.

Lobi Stars, the Nigerian Premier Football League champions, will take the field on Sunday at the Moi International Sports Complex, Nairobi against Kenya’s dominant club Gor Mahia, while Rangers have their turn earlier on Saturday in Sidi Bel Abbès, Algeria against USM Bel Abbès.

The Ortom Boys, as Lobi Stars are fondly called in honour of Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom, navigated Cameroon’s UMS de Lou 2-1 aggregate in the preliminary round, losing 0-1 away in the first leg.

Also known as the “Pride of Benue”, Lobi Stars are up against a Gor Mahia team which boost of experience in continental competitions. K’Ogalo won the African Cup Winners Cup in 1987 and have featured in that competition (now known as CAF Confederation Cup) seven times.

Gor Mahia were defeated at this stage in this same competition last edition by eventual champions Espérance, and would strive not to have a repeat experience having not gone past the quarterfinals in all 12 times of qualifying for the tournament, whether as CAFChampions League or as African Cup of Champions Clubs.

Kenya’s most successful club with 17 Premier League crowns struggled through the preliminary round to qualify to face Lobi Stars. A lone goal victory over Malawi’s Nyasa Big Bulletsi n Nairobi on November 28 was followed by the same margin of defeat in the reverse fixture. The Kenyan squad had to go through nail-baiting penalty shootouts to survive.

In recent time, Gor Mahia have played English PremierLeague side Everton losing 0-4 at Goodison Park, while also losing the Kenyan SuperCup match to Kariobangi Sharks 0-1. Zedekiah Otieno’s team started the defence of their Premier League title with a 1-2 defeat by to Bandari on December 8 but returned four days later to beat Zoo Kericho 4-0 to lead the table having played two matches as against one by their hot chasers.

For Gor Mahia fans however, there is the concern of a brewing players’ revolt which Lobi Stars may capitalise on. Two days to the fixture, the players threatened to down boots over unpaid salaries.

“We might skip the match and give them (Lobi Stars) a walkover. This is becoming too much. Can you imagine staying without salary and they want you to perform on the pitch?” a top player, who sought anonymity told Goal.com.

Lobi Stars have not played too many competitive matches as the NPFL current season is yet to commence. Apart from the two fixtures against their Cameroonian opposition, the only other game by the Makurdi-based side was the 1-0 victory in the NFF SuperCup against Rangers on November 20.

Coach Solomon Ogbeide and  his team will be reminded that the only other time they ever participated in this competition in 2000, they reached the group stage but finished third behind compatriots Heartland as well as Ghana’s Heart of Oaks and Al-Ahly of Egypt.“Of course, we know that Gor Mahia are a very big club from Kenya but the business…is the match on the field of play and Lobi Stars are also a big team,”Ogbeide boasted in an interview with cafonline.com.

For Rangers, it was easy passage from the preliminary to the first round. Ethiopia’s Defence SC fell apart 2-0 in Enugu and 3-1 in front of their fans.

The Flying Antelopes were African Cup Winners Cup way back in 1977, having reached the final of the African Cup of Champions Clubs two years earlier. In all, Rangers have featured in the Champions League (including when it was the African Cup of Champions Clubs) 10 times.

Rangers’ opponents USM Bel Abbès won this year’s Algerian Cup to qualify for this competition but are currently 10th in the domestic Ligue 1.They had played much of their life in the lower division.

Bel Abbès were in the African Cup Winners Cup in 1992, exiting in the second round. This is their first time in Africa since that competition was merged with the then CAF Cup to form the CAF Confederation Cup in 2004.

In the preliminary round, USM Bel Abbès beat Liberia’s LISCR FC 4-1 aggregate.

While the aggregate winners in the Champions League will go ahead to do battle in the 16-team group stage of four teams per group, the losers will descend to the Confederation Cup to face winners of the competition’s first round matches in the playoff, which will decide the 16teams for the group phase.

Saturday’s fixtures…

2018/19 CAF Champions League (First round first leg): 

  • JS Saoura (Algeria) v Ittihad Tanger (Morocco) (5:45pm)
  • Stade Malien (Mali) v ASEC Mimosas (Côte d’Ivoire) (6pm)
  •  Wydad Casablanca (Morocco) v ASC Diaraf (Senegal) (7pm)
  •  Orlando Pirates (South Africa) v African Stars FC (Namibia) (7:15pm)

2018/19 CAF Confederation Cup (First round first leg): 

  • USM Bel Abbès (Algeria) v Enugu Rangers (Nigeria) (4pm)
  • Étoile du Sahel (Tunisia) v Stade d’Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire) (4pm)
  • Kariobangi Sharks (Kenya) v Ashante Kotoko SC (Ghana) (1pm)
  •  KCCA (Uganda) v Mtibwa Sugar (Tanzania) (2pm)
  •  Al-Ahli Tripoli (Libya) v New Star FC (Cameroon) (2pm)
  • Green Eagles (Zambia) v NA Hussein Dey (Algeria) (2pm)
  •  Al-Masry (Egypt) v Salitas FC (Burkina Faso) (3.30pm)
  •  DC Motema Pembe (DR Congo) v FC San Pédro (Côte d’Ivoire) (3:30pm)
  • RS Berkane (Morocco) v Al-Ittihad (Libya) (5pm)
  • Al-Hilal Al-Ubayyid (Sudan) v Mukura Victory Sports (Rwanda) (5:30pm)
  • Zamalek (Egypt) v AS CotonTchad (Chad) (6pm)
  • CS Sfaxien (Tunisia) v Green Buffaloes (Zambia) (6pm)
  • Kaizer Chiefs (South Africa) v ASSM Elgeco Plus (Madagascar) (7:15pm)

Sunday’s fixtures…

2018/19 CAF Champions League (First round first leg): 

  • Gor Mahia (Kenya) v Lobi Stars (Nigeria) (2pm),
  • AS Vita Club (DR Congo) v Bantu FC (Lesotho) (2:30pm)
  • AS Otôho(Congo Republic) v FC Platinum (Zimbabwe) (3:30pm)
  • Ismaily (Egypt) v Coton Sport (Cameroon) (4pm)
  • Al-Ahly Benghazi (Libya) v Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa) (4pm)
  • TP Mazembe (DR Congo) v ZESCO United (Zambia) (4:30pm),
  •  Club Africain (Tunisia) v Al-Hilal (Sudan) (5pm)
  • Nkana (Zambia) v Simba (Tanzania) (11pm)

2018/19 CAF Confederation Cup (First round first leg): 

Raja Casablanca (Morocco) v Cercle Mbéri Sportif (Gabon) (5pm)