ACID TEST FOR SIASIA, EZEUGO, AS HEARTLAND, AL AHLY RUMBLE IN OWERRI
Nigeria's surviving flag bearer in this year's CAF Champions League, Heartland FC has full hands tomorrow when it takes on five times champion, Al Ahly of Egypt, at the Dan Anyiam Stadium in Owerri, as the money-spinning Group phase of the competition kicks-off.
It no doubt promises to be an acid test for the duo of Samson Siasia and Emeka Ezeugo who were recently hired by the management of the Owerri-based club to take over from the duo of Kelechi Emeteole and Ben Iroha who were relieved of their positions as technical adviser and chief coach respectively for alleged poor performance of the team in the recently concluded Nigerian league season where Heartland finished a distant eight position.
Governor Ikedi Ohakim, speaking through the Chief of staff of the Imo State government, Emma Ohakim, early in the week, explained that the choice of Siasia as the new gaffer of Heartland FC was informed by his pedigree and track record as a coach.
'The decision to bring in Siasia was to actualize the dreams and aspirations of the good people of Imo State and fans of Heartland FC which is to ensure that the team wins the CAF Champions League this year. We are convinced that Siasia is the right man for the job after considering his pedigree and track record as a coach' the Chief of Staff explained to journalists during the unveiling ceremony of the Beijing Olympic 2008 silver-winning coach.
Meanwhile, Siasia has vowed to succeed with heartland in the CAF Champions League campaign having worked with some of the players in the team at the national U-20 and U-23 teams at different times in the past. Some of the players include goalkeepers Ikechukwu and Daniel Akpenyi, striker John Owoeri as well as defender Kennedy Chinwo.
Siasia and Ezeugo have been sweating it out with the players at a closed camp in Nnewi in Anambra State where the team has been perfecting strategies ahead of tomorrow's crunchy tie.
Al Ahly's 31-man contingent arrived Owerri on Thursday. The Egyptian side had been on training tour of Germany and Austria in preparation for tomorrow's crucial tie. The five times champion is not leaving any stone unturned to ensure that it leaves Owerri with a decent result from the encounter after it suffered a shock exit from last year's edition of the competition in the hands of Nigeria's Kano Pillars that made its debut in the championship.
Siasia will bank on the experience of strikers Emeka Nwanna, John Owoeri and Zambian import, SignsWonder Chibambo for goals while defenders Chinedu Efugh and Ike ThankGod are expected to provide for either Austin Brown or Ekene Ezenwa in goal for the Nigerian flag bearer.
Heartland is in Group B of this year's CAF Champions league with JS Kabyle of Algeria, Al Ahly FC and Ismaili FC, both of Egypt. The two teams that finish on top of the group's table at the end of the round robin stage will qualify for the semi-finals to play against the two teams that top Group A.