The Confederation Cup, which is now regarded as the second African club competition, was founded in 2004 when the Confederation of African Football (CAF) merged the African Cup Winners’ Cup, which was first introduced in 1975, and the CAF Cup, which was introduced in 1992.
The inaugural edition was won by Ghanaian club Hearts of Oak, who defeated fellow Ghanaian club Asante Kotoko on penalties in the final.
The following season, Nigeria’s Dolphin FC reached the finals but were defeated by the Moroccan team AS FAR, marking the first and only time a Nigerian club reached the finals of a second-tier football competition.
From 2007 till date, the competition has been dominated by North African clubs except for 2004, 2009 and 2012 editions which were won by Ghanaian, Malian and Congolese clubs respectively.
The North African clubs have won the cup 14 times with Moroccan, Tunisia, Egyptian clubs winning 7, 5 and 2 times respectively while Nigeria has never won it but emerged runners-up once with Dolphins FC which later merged with Sharks FC in 2016 to become known as Rivers United.
The 2022/23 edition of the CAF Confed Cup had initially started with Remo Stars and Kwara United representing Nigeria but were dumped out in the first and second round respectively.
As the competition progressed, the 16 winners of the second round advanced to the playoff round, where they were joined by the 16 losers of the Champions League second round which included Rivers United and Plateau United.
Both teams had the hopes of the nation on the them to bring some succor to Nigerian football but Libya’s Al Akdar had a different plan as they sent Plateau United parking on away goal rule after the clash ended 4-4 on aggregate but Rivers United ensured Nigeria remained in the competition by defeating another Libyan side, Al Nasr 6-1 on aggregate and progressed to the group stage where they got off to a disappointing start as they fell 3-0 to Diables Noirs of Congo Brazzaville.
The determination to remain in continental football saw the club picking themselves up to advance to the knockout stage where they will kick off their first-ever cup quarter-final fixture against Tanzanian champions, Young Africans SC at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo on Sunday (tomorrow).
It will be noted that the Nigerian side had never progressed beyond play-off rounds in their three previous appearances in 2017, 2021 and 2022.
Buoyed by the goals of Ghanian import, Paul Acquah who leads the goal scoring chart with 4 goals alongside ASEC Mimosas’ Aubin Kramo Kouame and Marumo Gallants’ Ranga Chivaviro, the reigning Nigerian league champions will take advantage of playing the first leg at ‘home’ before the reverse fixture which is billed for the Benjamin Nkapa Stadium in Dar es Salaam on Sunday, April 30.
It will also be noted that Rivers United have just one league title win which they earned in 2022 and will be up against an opposition that has won 28 league titles and number of domestic cups, and have participated in 15 CAF Champions League editions. They have won the CECAFA Club Championship five times.
In an exclusive chat with left back Ebube Duru, he said the team never relented despite their ouster from the Champions League.
The Super Eagles defender further said the target of the team is to win the competition but cautioned they had to take the games stage by stage.
“It has not been easy one for us combining the continental games and league games but at the same time, it has been a good one for us as the only team representing Nigeria on the continental stage.
“After our elimination from the CAF Champions League, we never relented and we went to the Confederation Cup and we made a statement. Our target is to get to the finals. That is what we are told every day to ensure we get to the finals as this is a life-time opportunity.
“The support had been massive from the club and the government. All thanks to Gov Wike for being a blessing to the team and giving us all the support, we needed. We are doing everything possible to get to the finals and it is stage by stage. By God’s grace, we shall have something to smile about,” he declared.
Similarly, striker Nyima Nwagua said the players are motivated to make history as the first Nigerian side to win the cup.
“It has not been an easy journey at the Confederation Cup as much as been given and much has been expected at some point. We are not just playing for Rivers State but for Nigeria being the only side in the competition.
“Much is expected from us. On our side, we are staying focus and trying to give our best and trying to send a message to the world that our league is one of the best in Africa. I give kudos to the club management and the state government. This is our career and we are playing for our names as well as for the club and country. We are on the verge of making history and that is the motivation we have given ourselves to get to the finals,” he declared.
In another exclusive chat with former Super Eagles international, Mutiu Adepoju popularly known as ‘headmaster’ said he is optimistic that Rivers United will do the nation proud.
“Rivers United should try as much possible to ensure they don’t concede and take their chances. They have been doing very well and they have all it takes to win. The other team is experienced as they have been participating in the competition for many years but not notwithstanding, Rivers United have the quality and depth to defeat them and qualify for the next round.
“I am sure they will want to win the title for the very first time for Nigeria and we will be supporting them and ensure that their names are written in the history books as being the first Nigerian side to win the Cup. Personally, I am wishing them the very best in the competition,” he stated.
All eyes will be on experienced gaffer, Stanley Eguma who has made a name for himself due to his technical abilities will have his work cut out as Rivers United continental sojourn continues against the Young Africans of Tanzania.