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Rivers United await CAF CL opponents

It will be an anxious wait for Rivers United, one of Nigeria’s two representatives in 2017 Caf inter-club competitions as the draw for the preliminary and first rounds of the Caf Champions League is conducted on Wednesday in Cairo, Egypt.

Rivers United will be making its maiden expedition into the unpredictable waters of Africa’s premiere club competition after finishing as runners up in last season’s Nigeria Professional Football League.

Title-holders Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa are among eight previous winners of the CAF Champions League who will compete in the next year’s competition.

Only Al Ahly (Egypt), TP Mazembe (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Enyimba (Nigeria) have staged successful defences since the 1964 launch of the Champions League.

Ahly (2005-2006 and 2012-2013) and Mazembe (1967-1968 and 2009-2010) twice won back-to-back titles.

Enyimba, the only Nigerian club to conquer the continent in the premier club competition, triumphed in 2003 and 2004.

United’s pin up boy, Bernard ‘Magic seven’ Ovoke is relishing the prospect of pitting his wits against some of the finest footballers on the continent.

“We are ready for the Champions League. No one here is afraid (of facing the big teams).

“The pre-season preparations we had this year has been excellent and we are assuring Nigerians that we will do them proud next year,” he said.

United will be motivated by the prospect of not only competing against the best but also going for the increased financial rewards in a new format which has seen the prize money increasing by 66.6 percent to $2.5 million (N788 million) for the champions.

The runners-up will receive $1.25 million (N394 million), semi-finalists $875,000 (N276 million), quarter-finalists $650,000 (N205 million) and the eight group stage qualifiers who fail to make the knockout stage $550,000 (N173 million) each.

Caf have cut the two-leg qualifying phase from three rounds to two and doubled the number of qualifiers for the mini-leagues from eight to 16.

Some of the participants in the 2017 Caf Champions League include Étoile du Sahel and Espérance de Tunis (Tunisia); Al-Ahly and Zamalek (Egypt); TP Mazembe and AS Vita club (Congo DR) and Algerian clubs, USM Alger and JS Saoura.

Other sides expected to participate in the competition include Al Hilal (Sudan), Wydad Casablanca (Morocco) and the reigning champions, Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa).

The winners of the competition will represent Africa at the 2017 Fifa Club World Cup which will take place in the United Arab Emirates from December 6-16.

Mamelodi Sundowns represented Africa at the 2016 Fifa Club World Cup in Japan this month, finishing sixth of seven clubs after losses to Kashima Antlers (Japan) and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (South Korea).

The Pretoria outfit however scored financially, pocketing $1 million (N315 million) after two matches in Japan.

They played 14 matches to conquer Africa and collect $1.5 million (N473 million), something Rangers and United will be keen to emulate in 2017.

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