Johannesburg (AFP) – Enyimba should be happier than Bayelsa United after the Nigerian contenders for the CAF Confederation Cup discovered on Friday who they will face in the qualifying rounds.
The draws for the preliminary and first rounds in Cairo were kind to Enyimba, who received a bye into the round of 32, where they will meet Diambars of Senegal or Wakriya of Guinea.
Diambars are debutants in the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League while Wakriya have appeared only once before, and were eliminated in the preliminary round.
Although Enyimba will lack captain Augustine Oladapo, recently banned for 12 months after testing positive for banned substances, it would be a shock if they failed to advance.
Enyimba boast the most successful record of Nigerian clubs in CAF competitions, winning the Champions League and Super Cup twice each.
But the last of those victories came 16 years ago and the best the club based in southeastern city Aba have managed since was a 2018 Confederation Cup semi-finals place.
Last season, they bowed out of the second-tier African competition in the quarter-finals after woeful defending triggered a 4-1 first-leg hammering from Pyramids in Egypt.
Second division side Bayelsa secured a place in Africa by lifting the Nigerian FA Cup, and will find it much harder than Enyimba to get beyond the first round.
They had contrasting fortunes in two previous Confederation Cup appearances, reaching the 2009 semi-finals and making a preliminary-round exit five years later.
– Impressive Sfaxien –
Bayelsa have been paired with Anglogold Ashanti Golden Boys Siguiri from Guinea, one of 18 clubs debuting in the Confederation Cup this season.
Should the Nigerians survive the September tie, they will face CS Sfaxien, the Tunisian club who have won the competition a record three times.
The north Africans triumphed in 2007, retained the title the following year, surprisingly lost the 2010 final to FUS Rabat of Morocco, and succeeded again three years later.
Apart from the three Confederation Cup victories, Sfaxien won the now defunct CAF Cup in 1998 and were runners-up to Al Ahly of Egypt in the 2006 Champions League.
Nigerian clubs consistently struggle against opponents from north Africa and Sfaxien will be favourites, irrespective of whether they face Bayelsa or Siguiri.
South African entrants Marumo Gallants, a lowly league club who surprisingly won the FA Cup last season when called Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila, were paired with Futuro Kings from Equatorial Guinea.
Marumo are coached by Sebastien Migne from France, who was in charge of the Equatorial Guinea national team before moving to South Africa this year.
Orlando Pirates, impressive qualifiers for the quarter-finals last season before being outclassed by eventual winners Raja Casablanca of Morocco, were among 13 clubs to receive byes into the first round.
The Soweto Buccaneers, whose stars include Ghana goalkeeper Richard Ofori, await the winners between debutants Bumamuru of Burundi and experienced African campaigners Diables Noirs from Congo Brazzaville.