As Rivers United mourn their ouster from the CAF Champions League, former Dolphins and now Al Merreikh player Kelechi Osunwa has advised that they should learn lessons from their defeat and understand that a contest is not over until it is over and that a first leg win does not guarantee that a team will necessarily win the second leg in a championship as big as a continental championship.
Rivers United gave so much hope in their CAF Champions League campaign, drawing AS Real Bamako in Mali and defeating them 4-0 in Port Harcourt in the preliminary round and going ahead to beat Al Merreikh of Sudan 3-0 in the first round in Port Harcourt. They were however handed a humiliating 4-0 defeat in the return leg in Omdurman last Saturday.
Osunwa, a Nigeria who plays for Al Merreikh after his stint with a Port Harcourt city club said Rivers United relaxed their game after winning in the first leg and thought the second leg would be a stroll in the park.
“Next time, they should try not to relax when they have a 3-0 first leg advantage. They must also work hard in the second leg. Those were the major lapses I noticed in the Rivers United side and they fell. This is football where you cannot predict what can happen in 90 minutes,” Osunwa told Riversunitedfc.com.ng
Explaining the turn around for Al Merreikh, Osunwa revealed that Rivers must have misread their first leg fall in Port Harcourt but that they knew what the problem was and were determined to reverse their fortune in the second leg.
“Our coach was so upset about the first game in Port Harcourt but he also knew that we were really tired before the game. We simultaneously played in the Arab Champions League, the CAF Champions League plus the domestic league and Cup. We were so tired during that first leg in Port Harcourt and that fatigue was the reason why we lost the game.
“We were so prepared for the second game against Rivers United knowing that in the past (2007), we had also beaten another Nigerian club, Dolphins 6-1. We were hopeful that we could qualify in our home”.
And they did.
Also analyzing the game, former Sunshine Stars of Akure player, Dayo Ojo also featuring for Al Merreikh said they that if Rivers could beat them in Port Harcourt, they could also beat Rivers in Omdurman and they accordingly destabilised Rivers’ game plan.
“We believed we could do it because we spoke to ourselves and decided that if Rivers United could score three goals in Port Harcourt, we could also score four goals at home.
“I thank God that we did it. The pressure was on us in Port Harcourt but it was the opposite in Omdurman. We destabilized their game plan.
Ojo also took a swipe at the low level of fans support for Rivers as against the massive support Al Merreikh enjoy in Sudan which he said accounted for their confidence to fight on.
“Nigerian football fans must learn from Al-Merrikh in the area of supporting their teams. The support we got from our fans against Rivers United in Omdurman was very very good and that is how we see it every day in domestic and continental matches. The fans must continue to support the teams whether they are doing well or not.”
Meanwhile, Rivers United captain, Festus Austine, has apologised to Nigerians for giving so much hope and failing to deliver, describing the result as a setback.
“The result was a big setback. I never expected us to lose 0-4 to Al-Merrikh but then this is football. We tried to win or at least get a result that would see us progress but it was not to be. I am not happy about the result but we cannot change it now and we just have to focus on the next game.
“We owe Nigerians an apology because they expected much from us. We have to go back to the drawing board and learn from our mistakes,”.