Lobi Stars, Rangers end the year on a high

By George Akpayen

Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) sides, Lobi Stars and Rangers International, surely have finished the year 2018 on high notes after progressing in CAF club competitions.

Lobi Stars who finished top of the top division last season after the campaign was prematurely brought to an end have reached the group stage of the CAF Champions League against all odds.

Solomon Ogbeide’s side began their outing in Africa on a losing note when they fell 0-1 at UMS de Loum in the first leg, preliminary round.

In the return game in Enugu, Lobi scored twice to qualify at the expense of the Cameroonian club with Sikiru Alimi and Yaya Kone providing a goal each.

Kenyan giants Gor Mahia were next in line for the NPFL outfit. K’Ogalo took Lobi to the cleaners in the first meeting in Nairobi winning 3-1 and that sparked off a social media slanging match between football followers of Nigeria and the East African nation.

Alimi who was left out of the trip to Nairobi made Gor pay for conceding an away goal as he scored two late goals. Lobi progressed into the group stage of the Champions League for the first time since 2000 on away goal rule.

RANGERS CRUISING IN AFRICA

For seven-time Nigerian champions Rangers, their run in Africa has been different. They are unbeaten so far in four matches they have played in the Confederation Cup which has landed them a place in the playoff phase of the competition.

The Flying Antelopes have been the business in the CAF Confederation Cup — winning three out of their four matches. Rangers made ‘light work’ of Ethiopian opposition Defence Force FC in the preliminary. Gbenga Ogunbote’s men who both legs 5-1 on aggregate.

The first round provided Rangers with Algerian opponents USM Bel Abbes and concerns grew that Nigerian clubs usually to the end of their rope whenever they are drawn against North African clubs. The Flying Antelopes earned themselves a 0-0 draw in Sidi Bel Abbes and saw off their opponents in Enugu 2-0 to reach the playoff stage.

However Rangers still have 180 minutes to reach the group stage of the Confederation Cup. Their next games will come up in January after the CAF draw is held on December 28.

AGUDA, ALIMI & SILAS IN WITH SHOUTS

In the midst of the impressive performance of Lobi and Rangers in Africa this season, three men have stood out in terms of goalscoring. Rangers duo of Godwin Aguda and Bright Silas as well as Sikiru Alimi of Lobi.

Lobi faithful now realise that Alimi will play a major role in shouldering their goalscoring duties with Kadiri Samad complementing. Alimi has scored three goals in Champions League duties, four less than Moataz Al-Mehdi of Libyan club Al-Nasr. Unfortunately Al-Mehdi will continue his outing in Africa in the Confederation Cup after Horoya knocked them out.

Aguda and Silas have been responsible for a combined six of Rangers’ seven goals with super-sub Kelvin Itoya netting once. Only New Star de Douala’s Junior Ngongang on four goals and Mohamed Zubya of Libya’s Al-Ittihad have scored more in the Confederation Cup.