Ten-Man Rivers United FC of Nigeria on Saturday knocked reigning Rwanda Peace Cup champions, Rayon Sports out of the 2017 CAF Confederation Cup after a drama-filled goalless draw in the return leg of the Playoff round at a rocking Amahoro Stadium in Kigali.
On Saturday, Rayon Sports were required to win 2-0 to take the tie into extra time or 3-0 to win it outright and advance to the group stage but ‘Gikundiro’ met an immovable object in the shape of the ‘Pride of Rivers’.
United played with a man less for more than half an hour in the second half against a Rayon side back by a vociferous home crowd but grit, resolve and the never-say-die-Nigerian spirit was evident in the gladiatorial display which eventually proved to be the tide that carried Nigeria’s sole survivor in 2017 Inter CAF club competitions to safety.
United withstood predictable early pressure from the hosts and nearly silenced the Amahoro by snatching a shock lead, albeit an own goal, by Rayon Sports in the 18th minute.
Sakin did well to cross from the left but his dangerous delivery was diverted away for a corner by Jerry Mutsinzi with Guy Kuemian lurking on his shoulder.
Ten minutes later, the United players heaved a collective sigh of relief to see the score still even as Kwizera Pierrot curled a free kick inches wide from 25 yards but the boys from Nigeria seemed to exemplify men on a mission.
They hit back almost immediately through Sakin who almost gave them the lead on the stroke of half time but saw his volley fly just over Ndayisimiye Eric’s right hand post with the Rayon Sports goalkeeper in no man’s land.
Rayon predictably stepped on the accelerator after the break but met the United rear guard in uncompromising form.
As Rayon pressed further up the pitch, United looked to exploit gaping holes and almost made them pay in the 54th minute when Emeka Ogbugh embarked on a mazy run on the right only to see his strike from a tight angle fly inches over the bar.
Three minutes later, Rayon Sports seemed to have been handed a lifeline as Ifeanyi Nweke received a red card for catching Savio Dominique with a high boot.
Rayon could smell blood; they honed in for the kill with wave after wave of unrelenting attacks but the Nigerians stood their ground, defending in gladiatorial fashion to produce a heroic shut out.
Nahimana Shassir almost set up a grand stand finish with a superb effort that almost crept into Rotimi’s far post late in the second half but Lady luck was wearing a white vest on the day!
Rayon Sports head coach, Masoud Djuma was predictably downcast at full time but praised United as deserved winners of the tie.
“We lost to a better and more experienced side today and I want to say congratulations to Rivers United for their qualification,” Djuma exclusively told our official website, http://www.riversunitedfc.com.ng.
Technical manager of Rivers United, Stanley Eguma also took the time to discuss his side’s progress to the group stage of the CAF Confederation Cup at the club’s first time of asking.
“It was a tough match but it was what we expected.
“We had a tactical plan and even after we had a man sent off, we did not panic.
“I am pleased that we were able to get the job done and qualify for the group stage of the competition,” he said.
Rivers United thus becomes the 16th and final side to qualify for the group stage of the 2017 CAF Confederation Cup and are the only Nigerian club still left on the continent.
Rayon Sports: Ndayishimiye Eric, Manzi Thierry, Mutsinzi Jimmy, Mugisha Francois (Niyonzima Olivier 46’), Moussa Camara, Nahimana Shassir, Mugabo Gabriel (Manishimwe Djabel 70’), Domonique Nsuthi Savio, Bayana Nova, Kwizera Pierrot, Tidiane Kone (Eric Irambona 46’)
Substitutes not used: Mutuyimana Evariste, Munezero Fiston, Muhire Kevin and Lomami Frank
Rivers United: Sunday Rotimi, Nweke Ifeanyi, Doumbia Zoumana, Aliassou Sanou (Ayobami Asekunowo 66’), Festus Austine, Douhadji Joseph, Emeka Ogbugh, Nzube Anaezemba, Emeka Atuloma, Kuemian Guy Venance (Lukman Mohammed 81’) and Bolaji Sakin (Weli Christian 87’)
Substitutes not used: Abiodun Akande, Wassa Gabriel and Asamoah Godbless and Bernard Ovoke
Rayon Sports: Mugisha Francois (36’) and Niyonzima Olivier (67’).
Rivers United: Aliassou Sanou (31’), Festus Austine (73’) and Bolaji Sakin (86’)
Red card: Ifeanyi Nweke (57’)
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