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Nigerian rookies chase African club glory
Kaduna United and Sunshine Stars both fancy their chances of becoming the first Nigerian club to lift the African Confederation Cup despite being international rookies.
The duo kick off their group schedules at home this weekend -- Kaduna against InterClube of Angola in Group A and Sunshine against Daring Club Motema Pembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Group B.
ASEC Mimosas of Ivory Coast host Club Africain of Tunisia in a Group A duel of former African Champions League winners and Moghreb Fes of Morocco welcome twice African champions JS Kabylie of Algeria in the other Group B fixture.
Mini-league winners and runners-up advance to the semi-finals of the second-tier Pan-African championship, which has been dominated by Tunisian (three titles) and Moroccan (two) clubs since its introduction seven years ago.
Nigeria came closest in 2005 when Dolphin reached the final only to come up short against FAR Rabat of Morocco, who overturned a lone-goal first-leg loss with a 3-0 home triumph.
Kaduna and Sunshine are competing in Africa for the first time this year and luck has played a part in the teams making the final eight in a competition won by outsiders FUS Rabat last year.
Powerful Tunisian outfit Etoile Sahel withdrew from a qualifier with Kaduna because of safety fears amid post-presidential election violence despite the Nigerians moving the fixture from their northern base to a south-west venue.
The armed rebellion against Libyan leader Muamar Kadhafi meant Tripoli club Al-Ittihad could not play at home against Sunshine and the play-off was reduced to one match in Nigeria.
Belgium-born Kaduna coach Maurice Cooreman has so much confidence in his team that he is looking beyond the six-round group phase and the semi-finals to the two-legged finale.
"We have an exciting mix of young and experienced footballers and I will be surprised if we do not qualify for the final," boasted Cooreman to the Nigerian media.
"While I know little about InterClube, that is not a problem. A well prepared team can defeat any opponent, even one that delivers surprises. I am confident of success this weekend."
Sunshine coach Gbenga Ogunbote is equally upbeat and agrees with Cooreman that limited knowledge of opponents is no handicap when it comes to African fixtures.
"I do not have any information about Motema Pembe apart from the fact that they are experienced African campaigners so I will use the first 15 minutes of our match to read their formation and then adjust our strategy if necessary," he said.
Home advantage could well prove the springboard for Kaduna and Sunshine victories and ASEC and Moghreb also appear capable of making winning starts in the hunt for the $660,000 first prize.
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