On paper and going by pedigree, Remo Stars have been presented with the most challenging fixture among the four Nigerian teams jostling for continental honours in the 2022/23 season.
The draws for both the CAF Champions League and the less fancied Confederation Cup were made on Tuesday and continental debutant Remo Stars, who recently finished third in the Nigerian topflight league, will have to face Morocco’s ASFAR in the Confederation Cup.
First leg will be in Rabat in the weekend of 9 to 11 September, while the reverse fixture holds in Ikenne-Remo, Ogun State.
Based in Rabat and founded in1958, Sports Association of the Royal Armed Forces have featured 23 times in African club competitions, covering all blades – Champions League, Confederation Cup, as well as the defunct African Cup of Champions, African Cup Winners Cup and CAF Super Cup.
And ASFAR have been victorious in the Confederation Cup (2006) and the African Cup of Champions (1985); and were finalists in CAF Super Cup (2006), Confederation Cup (2006) and Cup Winners Cup (1997).
But what the Moroccan side gained in pedigree; they might have lost in freshness; their last qualification for any continental competition being 2014 when they were bundled out of the Champions League at the preliminary round, losing to Mali’s AS Real Bamako on away goal rule.
If the Sky Blue Stars passed the Moroccan challenge, they will take on either AAGBS of Guinea or Mauritania’s Nouakchott Kings.
Nigeria’s second entry in the Confederation Cup, Kwara United, who were fourth in the just ended Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), will be home to AS Douanes of Niger Republic in the preliminary round. The Harmony Boys of Ilorin were registered for the competition following the non-completion of the Aiteo Cup whose champions would have qualified for the Confederation Cup.
Kwara United will be contesting in African competitions for the third time; the most recent being the 2007 Confederation Cup.
Then, United waded through the early stages beating Benin Republic’s AS Dragon 3-0 aggregate, MC Alger of Algeria 4-3 aggregate, Cameroon’s US Douala 4-3 and triumphed against compatriots Nasarawa United 2-1 in the playoff, only to finish at the bottom of the table in Group B at the group phase.
In the CAF Cup in 1999, Kwara United reached the quarterfinals by beating Young Africans (Tanzania) 4-0 and Saneamento Rangol (walkover) before crashing 1-4 to Egypt’s Zamalek 2-5 in the quarterfinals.
United and their opponents AS Douanes have one team in common: Zamalek. While the Egyptians got Kwara United out of the way in the CAF cup in 1999, they accounted for the exit of Douanes in the Champions League in 2014, winning 3-0 in the preliminary round.
Should they progress, Kwara United have Morocco’s RS Berkane waiting for them in the first round.
In the Champions League, NPFL champions are back in the Champions League after being eliminated at the second round by Sudan’s Al-Hilal last season. Dropping to the Confederation Cup, United lost again, this time, to Egypt’s Al Masry who prevailed on away goal rule. The first leg in Aba ended 2-1 in favour of the Pride of Rivers, who however lost the second leg in Alexandria 0-1.
Rivers United exited so early in the 2017 Champions League as Sudan’s Al-Merrikh won 4-3 at the preliminary round. Facing debutants Watanga FC of Liberia, the Nigerian side have the opportunity to avoid going out at the first time of asking this time.
Champions of the Liberian First Division, Watanga were founded in 1997 and named after the military camp established just outside the country’s capital Monrovia.
The first leg will be hosted by Rivers United.
Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca, the reigning Champions League winners, are the prize awaiting the Nigerian champions for beating Watanga.
Nigeria’s other representatives in the Champions League, Plateau United do not have any Morocco opponents on their path in the early stages. Second in the NPFL last season, the Jos-based side face Gabon’s ASO Stade Mandji at the preliminary phase. If they overcome the Gabonese challenge, United will take on Tunisia’s Esperance, four-time champions.
The Tin City side were in the Champions League as recent as 2018 but got eliminated in the playoff leading to the group stage. They had beaten Cameroon’s Eding Sport 4-0 and Étoile du Sahel 4-3 on the way. But USM Alger stood between the Nigerian team and the group stage winning 2-5 in the playoff.
Earlier, Plateau United had a disappointing outing in 2000 edition of the Cup Winners Cup where they finished 0-3 against Étoile du Congo in the first round.
Stage Mandji, on their part, will file out for the second time in African competition when they host Plateau United between 9 and 11 September.
Fifty-eight clubs are in the running for the Champions League won by Wydad Casablanca last time, while 50 others, including defending champions RS Berkane, have committed to take part in the 2022-2023 Confederation Cup season.
Six clubs were exempted from the first round. These are defending champions Wydad Casablanca, Esperance, Raja Casablanca, Al Ahly, TP Mazembe and Mamelodi Sundowns.
In the Confederation Cup, the 14 clubs exempted from the first preliminary round and they will enter the competition in the next round include reigning champions RS Berkane, former winners Hearts of Oak of Ghana, Algeria’s JS Saoura and Pyramids of Egypt.
The first leg of the first preliminary round matches will be played from 9 to 11 September with the return matches scheduled to be played a week later.
Second round games will take place at the start of October.