Rivers United return to AITEO Cup duty on Sunday when they face Warri Wolves in the round of 16 of the competition.
The Wolves reached this stage by toppling unfancied Kaduna club, Ambassador FC, 1-0 in the round of 32 at the Confluence Stadium, Lokoja and have now set their sights on a place in the last eight.
Doma United were Wolves’ opponents in the round of 64 so Sunday’s game against Rivers United at the Samson Siasia Stadium, Yenagoa will represent the Warri club’s first real test of the competition this year.
Can the sleeping giants stir from hibernation?
Warri Wolves currently ply their trade in the second tier of Nigerian football but the institution has a fairly healthy history steeped in tradition.
Wolves represented Nigeria in the CAF Champions League in 2016 but were knocked out in the first round.
Four years later, the club returned to the continent where they reached the round of 16 of the CAF Confederation Cup. Two second round finishes in the same competition followed in 2012 and 2014 as the Wolves unsuccessfully tried to smash the glass ceiling under former coach, Paul Aigbogun.
As NPA, Wolves had played in the first round of the now defunct CAF Champions League.
Success in this year’s AITEP Cup will see Wolves return to familiar terrain – their old stomping ground, the continent. Stellar names like Ike Thankgod, Ambrose Uanzekin, Azubuike Egwuekwe, Sunday Mba and Ogenekaro Etebo have previously pulled the storied strips of Wolves but these days, the defenders of the badge are a little less stellar.
Head coach, Kester Ojo-Osagie will be relying on his trusted charges, Onome Onotafe, Igho Akporiri Walter, Samson Gift, Orukpe Innocent and Ibo Uro.
Other Wolves stars who will be looking to set the Cat amongst the Pigeons in the United camp include Onyebuchi Ogwu, Amadi Samuel, Nwafor Ikechukwu, Atshimene Charles, Ebuka Nnebuo and Ebule Jonathan.
Nnebuo was a former United midfielder and the playmaker will be extremely important for the Wolves if they are to upset the applecart and reach the quarter finals.
Chief Executive Officer of Warri Wolves, Moses Etu is upbeat about Sunday’s game and predicts a difficult time for the ‘Pride of Rivers’.
“We got to this stage against all odds. Rivers United is a big team so if they beat us, it is not going to be news, but if we beat them, it will be headline news,” Etu said.
“We respect them because they have star players and a great manager, Stanley Eguma. Hopefully, we will give them a good run for their money. If they win, they will suffer for the victory,” Etu promised.
United poised and focused
Rivers United have been quietly, steadily and consistently going about their business in this year’s AITEO Cup. Performances have been solid and the team spirit has never been better with the ranks of the ‘Pride of Rivers’.
A 4-0 win over FC Timberloader in the round of 64 in Lafia was followed by a classy 3-0 win over tournament favourites, Akwa United.
Rivers United look a frightening proposition and Stanley Eguma’s men have not conceded a single goal in the tournament.
“Winning against Akwa United has built so much confidence and now, our target is to go as far as we can in this competition,” Eguma, the technical manager of United told the club’s official website, www.riversunitedfc.com.ng.
Peter Ubakanma who has scored twice in the competition already, was also upbeat when he shared his pre-match thoughts.
“Wolves are an experienced side but we are in very good form at the moment and I think that will be the crucial factor,” he said.