Technical manager of Rivers United, Stanley Eguma, has apologised to Nigerians over the club's inability to progress to the group stage of the 2017 CAF Champions League following their 5-4 aggregate defeat to Al Merrikh of Sudan, but states it happened under the harsh conditions perpetrated by the hosts, Completesportsnigeria.com reports.
Rivers United were horrendously pegged 4-0 in the reverse fixture at Omduman, Sudan on Saturday, a result that cancelled out the Nigerians' 3-0 advantage in the first leg decided in Port Harcourt a week earlier.
"I'm highly disappointed seeing the way we were eliminated from the CAF Champions League after all the efforts that we put in to get to that stage. I'm also disappointed that we failed to make Nigerians, our fans, supporters of the team and sponsors of the team, Rivers State Government happy. There was high expectation on us before the match. But the way things later turned out was something we never expected and nobody is happy about it now," Eguma tells Completesportsnigeria.com.
"It was not as if we did not prepare very well. We studied our opponents and fashioned out a good strategy to overrun them there. But it didn't just go our way. They applied other antics outside of the rule books to turn things against us. I'm not happy about it.
"I know it is football but I have to apologise to Nigerians, to our fans, our supporters and sponsors of the team, Rivers State Government. They have really invested in the team, spending huge amount of money to keep it going, but we are very sorry and hope that it becomes a positive lesson for us tomorrow."
Eguma was part of the Enyimba of Aba coaching crew led by Okey Emordi that retained the CAF Champions League at the expense of Etoile Du Sahel of Tunisia in 2004.
He recounted what he described as 'hellish ordeal' his team were subjected to in Sudan by Al Merrikh, which led to their ouster from the glamorous continental interclub football showpiece.
"I have to thank God that we came back alive because it is only one who survives a war that tells stories about the war. We went, we saw but though we were unable to conquer, but at least we came back home with our lives.
"It was a terrible and horrible experience, such that I've never experienced in all my football career. What we passed through was hellish. And I think that if nothing is done by CAF to stop this kind of inhumane treatment to visiting teams, African football would be headed for the ruins.
"We arrived Sudan on Thursday and went to the stadium for a light training on Friday, but were badly treated on our way. We saw a crowd of people who were stoning us, with all manner of objects including stones, rotten eggs, tomatoes, mud, powdered substances and a whole lot of fettish things.
"But to me, that wouldn't be a problem. But then, you know we have a team with majority of the players still new to international football talkless of that kind of humiliating treatment. So I think, to an extent, some of them were afraid.
"It was the police that came to our rescue. They kept us inside the stadium for a very long time before we were eventually evacuated very late that night. On the matchday, another chapter opened. Even while we were on our way to the stadium, they started throwing objects at our bus. At the stadium, they refused to allow us enter with our video camera.
"This is contrary to understanding reached at the pre match meeting that we will record the match with our video camera just as we allowed them video the game in the first leg match in Port Harcourt.
"When we tried to complain to the match commissioner who presided over the pre match meeting and agreed we should record the match, he made a u-turn, saying recording the match was at the discretion of the home team. They cut off the internet facilities so we could not relate to the outside world. Tension rose very much higher, indicating clearly that they had a hidden agenda."
Eguma said the match referees did not help matters as they ignored their (Rivers United) two glaring penalty appeals but instead went ahead to award a questionable penalty to the home side.
"From the tunnel to the warm up zone, they poured and spread fettish concortions there with unfriendly odours. The referee did not allow us warm up on time. Unknown to us then, Al Merrikh were warming up somewhere else. Each time we asked them if we should come out and warm up, they will say not yet time untill it was almost late, like about 10 minutes before kick off time.
"My players did not live up to expectations in the early stages.Maaybe it was due to the stress that we conceded those early goals. The referee threw fairplay to the winds. For him, it was every ball to our area. It got to a point where some of my players who understand French language had to complain to the referee but he said: "what do you want me to do? Don't you see the crowd? If I don't do it, don't you think I may not leave here alive?".
The first goal we conceded was as a result of reflection after a free kick. The referee helped them to sustain the pressure on us until the second goal came through a goalmouth scramble that also resulted from another free kick. At that point, we tried to contain them so we don't conceed another goal. Lo and behold, the referee awarded them a penalty from nowhere and they scored to make it 3-0 in the first half.
"During the second half, we had two penalty appeals, but the referee ignored them. One of their defenders handled the ball inside the area but the referee ignored it. Again, our attacker, Lookman Mohammed dribbled the Al Merrikh goalkeeper who turned round to kick him down together with a defender, yet for the referee, there was no need for a penalty for us".
Eguma waved off insinuations the Pride of Rivers could lodge official protest to CAF against Al Merrikh.
"Lodging official protest to CAF would have been our next option, but under this circumstance, where is the evidence? If we had been allowed to video the match, the (video) clip or even pictures would have served as our evidence. It looks vague but if the management will think along that line, no problems but if the match commissioner or whoever was the secret assessor would be sincere enough to write in his reports what actually transpired, I would advise my people to write a (protest letter."
Eguma said the Al Merrikh experience will serve as a huge lesson to him as they prepare for life in the CAF Confederation Cup.
"Now that we are going to play in the Confederation Cup, we have to learn our lessons. It is when you look back that you will know how to face the future. For me it is a big lesson.
"We need to really do our home work well. Again, we must be able to play the politics involved and to ensure we are not cheated on the field. We have to ensure that this does not happen again, if not, if we meet any other North African team again, we should expect this kind of treatment."