It was a bad weekend for Nigerian clubs in the CAF Champions League, Enugu Rangers and Rivers United, who failed to cross the last bridge to the group stage of the competition.
For Enugu Rangers, it was always a Herculean task against Zamalek of Egypt, who beat them 4-1 in the first leg of their last qualifying tie.
Rangers needed to win by 3-0 in Enugu yesterday, but they could only struggle to a 2-1 win, which effectively knocked them out of the competition on 5-3 goal aggregate.
Zamalek had their stand-in goalkeeper, Mahmoud Gennesh, to thank for their survival against a Rangers’ side, which came into the game looking for a miracle.
Rangers took the lead on the stroke of half-time through Tope Olusesi, but substitute Bassem Morsi silenced the Enugu crowd with the equalizer in the 71st minute.
With Zamalek’s goal, Rangers needed to score three more to take the tie to a penalty shoot out, but they found Gennesh, who deputised for the injured Ahmed El-Shennawi, too tough to handle.
Zamalek had an opportunity to take the tie beyond Rangers when Maarouf Yussuf came face to face with Rangers’ goalkeeper off a through ball from Nigeria’s Stanley Ohawuchi, but he shot straight at the goalkeeper.
Olusesi got Rangers’ first goal of the game in the final minutes of the first half when he pounced on a loose ball following some dismal marking by Zamalek’s Ali Gabr and Islam Gamal, as Olusesi to beat Gennesh.
Rangers continued to dominate the game in the second half, but Gennesh had a mission to thwart the Nigerian champions, as he pulled off some stupendous saves to deny the Flying Antelopes.
Morsi’s goal for Zamalek in the 70th minute all but snuffed the fight out of Rangers, who, however, managed another goal in the dying minutes of the game when Zamalek’s Tarek Hamed committed a foul inside the box on the dot of 90 minutes to hand the Nigerians a penalty kick.
Aguda sent Gennesh the wrong way to end the tie 2-1 in favour of Rangers. The failure to reverse the 4-1 deficit means that Rangers will now play in the second tier CAF Confederation Cup.
On Saturday, Rivers United, who beat Al Merreikh of Sudan 3-0 in Port Harcourt a week ago, were booted out by their opponents, who defeated them 4-0 in Omdurman.
Ashour El-Adham, who joined Al Merriekh on a six-month loan move last year, scored his team’s first goal in the eighth minute of the match to start one of the biggest comebacks in the history of the championship.
El Merriekh’s uprising was just starting as the team’s striker Bakri Al-Madina scored two goals before the first half ended, crushing the Nigerian side’s defensive strategy. Substitute Mohamed Hashem later managed to score the fourth goal to seal a historic win for his side and throwing Rivers United out of the Champions League.
The defeat also demotes Rivers United to the CAF Confederation Cup.