The "cauldron of hate and noise", the Al-Merrikh Stadium, Omdurman, which seats over 50,000 fans, will rock with emotion on Saturday night as Rivers United look to preserve a 3-0 first leg advantage against Al-Merrikh FC in the 2017 Caf Champions League.
Guy Kuemian’s brace and Esosa Igbinoba’s straightforward finish gave United a commanding first leg lead in the first round tie last Sunday at the Yakubu Gowon Stadium, Port Harcourt but the ‘Pride of Rivers’ know it is not over yet.
There is still a tricky banana peel to navigate on Saturday in Omdurman, a notoriously difficult venue for visiting sides, and the home faithful will be representing the famed 12th man, willing their side to complete an improbable comeback. Yesterday it got ugly off the pitch when the Rivers entourage was attacked by fans on their way to train at the stadium, so things have become really explosive.
The Red Devils stadium is expected to be packed and a hexenkessel of noise, smoke, flames and dancing lasers
Merrikh’s head coach Diego Garzitto has since ruled out a certain comeback, stressing that his side is not FC Barcelona but many have characterised that analysis as nothing more than mind games.
The Rivers United technical manager, Stanley Eguma, is however taking nothing for granted ahead of Saturday’s big game and is charging his stars to keep their eyes on the prize.
“We will be foolish to think that we have qualified (for the group stage) because we have not.
“Just last year, (seven-time Nigerian champions), Enyimba beat (Tunisian club) Etoile du Sahel 3-0 in the first round at this stage (of the Champions League) but we all know what happened (in Sousse, where Etoile cancelled out the first-leg deficit in regulation time before eventually losing on penalties to the seven-time Nigerian champions).
“We still have to approach this second leg like it is the first leg; that’s the only way we can achieve our objective (of qualification),” he told supersport.com.
United will be keen to avoid conceding more than twice in the worst case scenario while also looking to claim an away goal which could put the tie to bed.
Al-Merrikh have a tall hill to climb, but they are at home...
Fans of the Nigerian club would be looking towards the direction of top scorer in the competition Esosa Igbinoba to deliver the goods and the midfielder is eager to justify the confidence reposed in him.
Igbinoba [ below celebrating goal against Real Bamako ] has netted three times already after the first three games in this year’s Champions League and is just one strike behind the competition’s top scorer, Muaid Ellafi, who has notched up four goals for Libyan club Al-Ahli Tripoli.
The Rivers United midfielder is looking forward to scoring his fourth goal in the competition but will gladly pass that up for qualification for his side to reach the group stage of the competition.
“I am not surprised that I have scored this many goals at this stage of the season because I have always believed in my abilities.
“The problem I had initially was settling down at my new club but I have since done that and the goals have begun to come.
“Of course, I want to score (on Saturday) and I think I will but the most important thing is to help my team qualify for the group stage,” he said.
Saturday’s game between Al-Merrikh and Rivers United will kick off at 6pm WAT or 5pm CAT. For game time conditions kindly click here
For more on Rivers United being attacked in Sudan click here