Heartland confident despite absentees
Posted: 30 October 2009 Time: 11:31 am
Heartland may appear to have had the offensive heart ripped out of their team without the presence of the strike duo of Stanley Okoro and John Owoeri, but the Nigerian side remains upbeat about their chances of winning the CAF Champions League.
While the effervescent Okoro is on international duty with the Nigeria Under-17s at the Fifa World Cup, Owoeri is serving out a suspension and team officials are pessimistic about his chances of getting the all clear from CAF on time to take any part in the two-legged Final.
The loss of the duo is a big body blow to the Naze Millionaires, but goalkeeper Austin Brown says the squad have grown as a unit and can overcome by teamwork.
"We will miss them of course, but we are playing in the final and we have learnt to play as a team, so that if one player is missing, another one can take his place and do an equally good job," Brown told KickOffNigeria.com.
It is fortunate for Heartland then, that Uche Agba has stepped into what could have been the breach with a rush of three goals in the semifinals.
Champions League-winning experience is also in supply from forward Emeka Nwanna and coach Kelechi Emeteole, both of whom tasted success with Enyimba.
And skipper ThankGod Ike's rock-hard displays at centreback which have seen him pick up an award back home, should come in handy against the dreaded Alain Dioko Kaliyutuka, who has notched up eight goals so far, including a hat trick against Monomotapa.
Not that he is the only threat, with Congolese international Tresor Mputu lurking. Both sides met in the group stages and cancelled each other out in mirror-image 2-0 wins, as they secured passage to the semis.
One side will have to go home empty-handed this time.
Heartland have metamorphosed from Iwuanyanwu Nationale, who appeared in the 1988 Final, and they will be hoping that their new-found spirit will push them to go one better than their predecessors.
Governor Ikedi Ohakim has set a target of making Imo State the heartbeat of sports in Nigeria, and a CAF Champions League win might be just what the doctor ordered to spark this ambition to life.