After elimination from 2023 CAF Confederation, Rivers United shift focus to NPFL, Federation Cup

After elimination from CAF Confederation, Rivers United shift focus to NPFL, Federation Cup

Rivers United’s quest to become the first Nigerian team to emerge a continental champion after Enyimba won back-to-back continental championships in 2003 and 2004, evaporated into thin air after they were eliminated from the 2022/2023 CAF Confederation Cup on Sunday by Young Africans after a 2-0 quarterfinal aggregate defeat (0-0 in the second leg).

The Pride of Rivers, who won the Nigerian Premier Football League (NPFL) title last season and earned a spot in the CAF Champions League, were eliminated from the competition in the qualification playoff and were relegated to the Confederations Cup.

A decent campaign had seen them finish as second in Group B, behind Cote d’Ivoire’s ASEC Mimosas and made the knockout stages where they paired up with Young Africans.

However, a 2-0 home defeat in the first leg to the Tanzanian Premier League champions, and a 0-0 draw in the second leg of the quarter-final meant that it would rather be Young Africans to proceed to the semifinal to face South Africa’s Marumo Gallants.

While reacting to the exit, head coach, Stanley Eguma has admitted that valuable lessons have been learnt while lauding his team’s performance in the competition.

“It’s disappointing to crash out of the competition; if we had a better game in the first leg, it would have been a different situation in the reverse fixture.

“One good thing is that we were able to secure the four slots for Nigeria in the continent, because qualifying to the group phase and going beyond to the quarterfinal stage has secured Nigeria’s slots in the continent,” Egunma told a press conference.

In a chat with Nasarawa United skipper, Emmanuel Makama, he said the improvement seen in the league will help the clubs in the continental assignments.  

“Rivers United are a good side and they represented Nigeria well on the continent. They were just unlucky to have lost the first leg against the Tanzanians.

“Now our league is improving and it is aligning with the other leagues in the world. We have just few more games to complete the league and this will give the clubs more games which will help the teams. You know what is obtained in the past where clubs play friendly games while other African clubs are in league mood,” he said.

In the same vein, Rivers United defender, Ebube Duru said they team is sad to have crashed out as they all wanted to bring smile to the faces of Nigerians.

“We tried our best to win the tie but this is why this game is called football. Ofcourse, it has always been our desire to get to the finals but we were unlucky,” he said.

The Interim Management Company (IMC) revealed that it was pleased that a Nigerian club side got to the knockout stages of the Confederation Cup, adding that the body desires to always see Nigerian teams “go all the way” in continental competitions.

“Our desire is to see Nigerian clubs go all the way in the competition and this will naturally affect our fixtures just as it does elsewhere,” Davidson Owumi, the Head of Operations of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) stated on Tuesday.

With their exit, the Pride of Rivers will now need to focus on the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL), where they still have a few games to play after representing the country in the continental competition.

The Port Harcourt club must first earn a spot in one of the three Group B clubs that will participate in the Super 6 playoff in 2023 if they want to defend their league title.

The NPFL’s defending champions are now fourth in Group B with 23 points after 13 games and three games still to play. They are six points behind Group B’s top team, Lobi Stars, and one point away from Super 6 qualification spots.

Aside from the NPFL, the Port Harcourt club is set to face Enyimba in the Federation Cup Round of 64.

The Port Harcourt team will face another heavyweight matchup in the cup if they defeat Enyimba in the round of 64, as they will play 2017 Nigerian champions Plateau United in the Round of 32.

In the midst of the gloom, Rivers United have ensured that Nigeria will be represented by four countries in CAF club competitions next year as a result of their impressive performance in the competition.

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