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CAF Interclub Competition: Why it was a weekend to forget for Nigerian football

NPFL representatives fail to make statement in disappointing losses

Nigerian football received a painful jolt after all of the country’s remaining representatives on the continent suffered varying degrees of losses in their group stage playoffs. Plateau United kicked off the weekend by going down 1-0 to Esperance thanks to a dubious penalty in Rades, before Kwara United went one better and lost 2-0 in Berkane. Champions Rivers United left the worst for the last as they were mauled 6-0 by Wydad AC.

Having seen no Nigerian club make the group stage of either the CAF Champions League or CAF Confederation Cup in 2021-22, Nigerian football fans were hopeful of seeing at least one of their clubs on the continent after impressive first leg performances at home. Plateau United and Rivers United both came back from a goal down to win 2-1 at home, while Kwara United won 3-1, having been behind at some point in the game. Following these performances against Africa’s elite teams, there was some optimism among Nigerian fans. They were, however, given a reminder of their level in the most brutal fashion possible.

The NPFL teams that featured in the matches had themselves and their coaches to blame for the abysmal performances they put up. Despite Plateau United coach Fidelis Ilechukwu promising an attacking set-up, his side rarely ventured into Esperance’s half of the pitch in their match on Saturday.

Plateau United were content to sit deep and allow their Tunisian opposition try to break them down for the entire 90 minutes. They came close to achieving this until a farce of a penalty was awarded and scored in the dying embers. The Peace Boys did not test the Tunisian goalkeeper even once for the whole duration of the match. In Berkane, the situation was the same. At some point, a spectator from Nigeria termed it that Kwara United’s players had attempted more dives than passes. The team did not set up to test their opposition defenders and goalkeeper, making it very easy to defeat them.

Similarly, the time-wasting antics of the Nigerians was evident from the first blast of the whistle. Plateau United goalkeeper Suraj Ayeleso was lucky not to have been punished severely by the opposition. The experienced goalkeeper refused to catch the ball, instead preferring to keep bouncing the ball in a bid to waste time until an opposition forward tried to get it off him. He did this for the entire duration of the match. Similarly, Rivers United goalkeeper Seidu Mutawakilu received two yellow cards in the first half of their match. The first yellow card came for wasting time in the 32nd minute and the second was for a foul in his box before half-time

The role played by the poor officiating in the game and terrible treatment of the visiting Nigerian sides by their hosts cannot be ignored, but the poor away mentality of Nigerian teams cost them again. All three sides failed to score a single goal away from home, allowing their North African opponents to dump them easily. Plateau United and Rivers United have a second chance in the CAF Confederation Cup, and they will be hoping to make things right for their fans.

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