Nigerian representatives Lobi Stars of Makurdi on Saturday left it late to defeat Kenyan Champions 2-0 in their CAF Champions League second leg first round clash to advance to the group stage of the Champions League on away goals rule after losing the first leg in Nairobi last Sunday.
The Nigerians lost 1-3 at the Kasarani Sports Complex but went into the return leg at the Nnamdi Azikwe Stadium in Enugu with a couple of personnel boost; striker Sikiru Alimi returned to the team while defender Chile Azu was on hand to feature in place of the misfiring Umar Zango.
Midfielder Kelly Kester however had to make do with a substitute role after a toe injury he suffered in training, allowing old warhorse Cletus Itodo to start in midfield alongside Alex Aghahowa and Mathias Samuel. Alimi paired upfront with Samad Kadiri.
The first half failed to produce any goal as the K’ogalo – as Gor Mahia – are fondly called maintained a disciplined shape to nullify all the attacking threats posed by Lobi’s forward duo as well as Ivorien playmaker Yaya Kone.
Lobi coach Solomon Ogbeide threw in former MFM star Austin Ogunye for Itodo early in the second half in a tactical switch engineered towards giving the Pride of Benue more scoring opportunities.
The move turned out to be an inspiring one as Ogunye, it was who gave “the hosts” the lead in the 70th minute from inside the box. Striker Alimi then doubled the lead with the all important second goal two minutes from time with a spectacular effort from range.
Five minutes of stoppage time were added by South African referee Tinyiko Hlungwani but the Nigerians held on for the crucial victory to qualify for the group stage of the 2018/19 CAF Champions League while their foes, Gor Mahia will drop down to the Confederation Cup
Lobi Stars thus become the first Nigerian side to qualify for the group stage in three years – after Enyimba did in 2016 – while this also makes it a return for the team among Africa’s elites in eighteen to nineteen years. Their last time in CAF Champions League group stage being 2000.