For the first time ever, Nigeria will this evening host an African inter-club final that is not having any of the country’s club sides on the card. The Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo (affectionately called the Nest of Champions) is where the 2021/22 champions of the CAF Confederation Cup will emerged and be crowned. And the winners will either be South Africa’s Orlando Pirates or RS Berkane of Morocco. While the South Africans are looking for their first hurrah in this tournament having won the elite Champions League in 1995, Berkane seek their second title win following their 2020 triumph.
Heartland, now struggling to avoid the drop from the premier division of the Nigerian league, were the last team from the country to reach the final of any CAF-organised club competition. And that was as far back as 2009 when they lost by away goal rule to DR Congo’s TP Mazembe. Heartland had won the first leg 2-1 of the 2009 CAF Champions League at the Dan Anyiam Stadium in Owerri on 1st November that year, which marked the last time a CAF inter-club final will be played on Nigerian soil. The lone goal victory by the Congolese team at the Stade Municipal de Lubumbashi six days later delivered the trophy to the Ravens. It was Mazembe’s third triumph and they went on to add two more in 2010 and 2015.
In Uyo, where last season’s domestic league champions Akwa United are based, fans are being motivated to storm the stadium with kick-off at 8 pm (1900 GMT). The General Coordinator of the Local Organising Committee, Elder Paul Bassey is as excited as many other Nigerians. “This is a continental assignment and Akwa Ibom had to do it on behalf of Nigeria. And this stadium, apart from being one of the best in Africa, is also the best in the country.
“When CAF came to Uyo, they saw that it was fit enough to host. And it’s not only about the stadium, but the Ibom Specialist Hospital is also world class. Then, of course, the hotels are five stars; the airport facility, among others. And then the experience, because we have hosted big games before. For Uyo people, this is huge, and we have that culture of coming out in a mass”, he said.
A 30,000-capacity seater which was launched in 2014, the Godswill Akpabio is modelled after the Allianz Arena in München, Germany and has served as the home to the Nigerian Super Eagles. It is arguably Nigeria’s topmost stadium, and is situated in Goodluck Ebele Jonathan Boulevard in the Akwa Ibom State capital.
The ultra-modern sports complex boasts bulletproof VIP and VVIP areas, natural grass, high-tech floodlights, a training pitch, a helipad, and collapsible seats. It has 30 emergency exit points, closed-circuit security cameras, standby firefighting equipment and metal detectors to take care of security.
Pirates will be appearing in the final of a CAF club competition for the third time but have triumphed only once – in 1995 when they claimed the Champions League beating Ivorien side ASEC Mimosas 3-2 over two legs. That was the South African only time in the final of that glamorous tournament.
In 2015, Pirates lost to Tunisia’s Étoile Sportive du Sahel 1-2 aggregate to miss out of the trophy. And they are back in the final of the same competition seven years after.
Founded in 1938, Berkane are also appearing in their third CAF club final; all in the Confederation Cup. They beat Pyramids of Egypt 1-0 in Rabat in a one-leg final to win the 2020 edition. That was after they got beaten by 5-3 on penalties the previous year after both legs ended 1-1 against Zamalek of Egypt. That marked the last time the final will be played over two legs.
Both sides got a bye into the second round of the competition as a result of their pedigree. Berkane eliminated Tunisia’s US Ben Guerdane 5-0 aggregate and APR of Rwanda 2-1 to reach the group stage. They went to top Group D, edging Tanzania’s Simba on head-to-head following a statistic of 3-1-2. They beat Egypt’s Al Masry 2-2 on away goal rule in the quarterfinals and defeated TP Mazembe of DR Congo 4-2 aggregate in the semi-final.
For Pirates, Congo Republic’s Diables Noirs gave a tough time but eventually lost 1-0 in the second round, while they walked over Liberia’s LPRC Oilers in the playoff after winning the first leg in Monrovia 2-0. Pirates then emerged winners of Group B winning four, sharing honours in one and losing the other. Simba tried to stop the Buccaneers in the quarterfinals with the two legs deadlocked at 1-1, but Pirates went through 4-3 penalties. They then beat Al Ahli Tripoli 2-1 to arrive in tonight’s final.
Who will first win the CAF Confederation Cup between these two visiting sides in Uyo?