By Paul Bassey
Day is Saturday, March 29 2014.Time is few minutes to midnight.
I am in Sapele, Acropoulis Hotel, in a room christened “London”.
With World Sports on CNN, I have just rounded up one hell of a football crazy Saturday that started with Manchester United thumping Aston Villa 4-1, after the fans had decided that the team will be better off without David Moyes on the bench. ( I agree )
Sapele Township Stadium , Saturday was the venue of the CAF Confederation Cup return leg match between Bayelsa United and How Mine of Zimbabwe. After what was termed an impressive 1-2 loss at away in Bulawayo, Nigerians were unanimous that all Bayelsa needed was “just” one goal to move into the next round!
Forty five minutes of total control by Bayelsa United, yet the goal refused to come and anxiety set in. frayed nerves, jittery and uncoordinated start of the second half then the needed curtain raiser gave way to the second and qualification to the next round was sealed. As goal scorers kudos to Buhari Gaafar and Samuel Tswanya, yet for me the man of the match was substitute Gabriel Ikechukwu the CHAN Eagle who came in to make all the difference in the Bayelsa defence, inspiring confidence with his towering five star display.
As referee Youssef Essrayi of Tunisia blew his final whistle, Sapele broke into a carnival. Hysterical shouts, jumps and dances of joy, hand pumping, embraces of victory with proud Bayelsa Chairman Hon Akpofini Adogu the centre of attraction.
Coach Richard Bubagha and his brave lads walked tall. Bayelsa United, rated last in the grading order of Nigerian clubs representing Nigeria in this year’s Continental campaign was steadily marching on where giants had faltered and fallen.
As the celebration was going on, an elated journalist came to interview the legendary Linus Mba, FIFA Referees Advisor. He wanted Mr Mba to comment “….on this wonderful qualification to the lucrative group stage of the competition” The answer shocked him. “Not yet “ Mr Mba counseled and went on to educate him on the format of the competition.
Whereas winners of the Champions league at this stage have qualified straight to the “lucrative” group stage, Confederation Cup winners are condemned to play the eight teams that will drop from the Champions league for a place in the Confederations Cup group stage.
In other words, Bayelsa United have two matches to go to get to the group stage and one of those opponents is CAF Champions League defending champions, the famous Al Ahli of Egypt who were unbelievably beaten and dumped out of the Champions league, 3-2 in Cairo by Libya’s Ahli Benghazi!
The “Mba reporter” was not happy to hear this. “ Sir this is not fair. Do you think it is fair?” Fair or not, that is the format, one that places premium on the CAF Champions League qualifiers, one that has been in operation for years.
Of the sixteen teams that Bayelsa are waiting to face, ( The draw is tomorrow in Cairo ) seven are North Africans, of which six were most likely to stay in the Champions League until Al Ahly surprisingly dropped after a slim 0-1 loss at away.
Horoya FC of Guinea, Sewe Sports of Cote d Ivoire and Kaiser Chiefs of South Africa have dropped, ousted by CS Faxien of Tunisia, T.P.Mazembe of Congo DR and Vita Club of Congo respectively.
So Bayelsa United now know four of their next foes. ( The remaining four were known yesterday. ( Cotton Sports hosted Entente Setif after losing 1-0 at away, Zamalek took a 0-0 first leg result against Nkana Red Devils to Cairo, Esperance was at home to Real De Bamako. First leg result 1-1, same away goal line situation as El Hilal of Sudan hosted A.C Leopards of Congo.
Can I therefore be excused for assuming that Entente Setif, Nkana Red Devils, Real De Bamako and Pillars and Heartland conqueror A.C Leopard will be in the hat when Bayelsa opponents are drawn tomorrow?
I cannot be excused, thanks to the Al Ahly result, football results that are never mathematics.
In Cairo as General Coordinator of the CAF Super Cup I was told that Al Ahly have seen better days. That their domestic form was horrible and they were most likely to be beaten by CS Sfaxien. On the field, it was a different Ahly that we saw, one that rose to the occasion and won the Super Cup.
It is that Alhy that we are likely to face in the Confederation Cup, a bitten Ahly, shy Ahly, wounded Ahly, one that I will advice all opponents to beware.
For now, we keep our fingers crossed and pray for the luck of the draw, advantage Nigeria.
See you next week.