Nigeria’s champion and one of its flag bearers at the 2021/22 CAF Champions League Akwa United picked up an important 1-0 win against CR Belouizdad to earn themselves a first leg advantage in the preliminary round of the competition.
NPFL Champions Akwa United were playing in the CAF Champions League for the first time after they were drawn against Algeria’s CR Belouizdad. They were without top scorer Charles Atshimene and Olisa Ndah, who have moved to Feirense and Orlando Pirates, respectively.
Akwa United boss Kennedy Boboye handed debuts to teenage left back James Ajako, central defender Dennis Nya and midfielder Godspower Aniefiok after the trio completed moves to the Promise Keepers during the off-season.
Akwa United were playing against Algerian Ligue 1 champions CR Belouizdad in front of their fans at the Nest of Champions in Uyo, and they looked to assert themselves against their opponents. The visitors made their presence felt on the pitch in Uyo as they tried to get an early advantage, but the Nigerian champions showed their class by playing around their Algerian opposition, with Aniefiok combining well with fellow midfielders Seth Mayi and Dare Ojo in the middle of the park.
Belouizdad came close to breaking the deadlock as a slide rule pass from midfield carved open the Akwa United defence, but everyone missed the resulting cross from the fullback. Akwa United then came within inches of scoring as towering midfielder Aniefiok directed a header goalwards from a corner, but a goal-line clearance denied the ex-Rangers man a debut goal.
Belouizdad continued to press Akwa United and were able to find joy down the right flank as their left back and left winger tried to overload the Promise Keepers right back Etboy Akpan, but Samson Gbadebo and his new central defence partner Nya held firm to clear out any threats before they caused harm.
The match was a cagey one throughout, and seemed to be destined to end scoreless before Akwa United captain Ubong Friday came up clutch with his first CAF Champions League goal of the season with only three minutes left on the clock. The winger aimed a fierce shot at the Belouizdad goal, and the goalkeeper could not do enough to prevent the ball from hitting the back of the net in the 87th minute.
The home side held on to secure a hard-fought 1-0 win over their Algerian opponents. They will now travel to Algeria for their second leg clash next weekend, knowing that a draw would send them through to the second preliminary round.