…pip ASO Chlef 1-0 in first preliminary game

Bendel Insurance Football Club of Benin, the darling team of sporting Nigerians, sustained their sterling performance Saturday, kicking off the 2023/2024 CAF Confederations Cup with a 1-0 victory over ASO Chlef of Algeria in Benin City, the Edo State capital.

By this performance, Bendel Insurance proved they are no ordinary team, and perhaps also, that they have a firm grip on the skirts of ‘Lady Luck’, that folkloric goddess of good fortune in high and low tide, in all undertakings.

Bendel Insurance became the stuff of legend when in May, they equalled the longest unbeaten run (18) in the history of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) after they were held to a 1-1 draw by Nasarawa United, at the New Jos Stadium in Jos, Plateau State.

In Saturday’s match, Insurance mercurial forward, Imade Osarenkhoe, sent the Ogbe Stadium agog with jubilation when he scored the only goal of the match in the 42nd minute of the first half.

Leading the cheer at the stadium was Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, who had spent the days leading up to the game drumming support for the Nigerian flag-bearers and encouraging supporters to turn up for the event and lend their voices in encouragement.

Nigerian soccer enthusiasts will again be looking to the long run of exemplary performance of the team to stand them in good stead as they face up to the Algerians in Algiers, with a sure but slim lead in the return leg.

The Benin Arsenals will have to work hard to hold on to their slim lead or better still, increase it, to keep themselves in front to cross last hurdle of the first preliminary match of the continental engagement.

Insurance had wasted three glaring scoring chances within the first 30 minutes of play before Osarenkhoe connected a free kick taken by Sunday Anyanwu to give the Nigerian side the lead ahead of the reverse fixture on August 27 in Algeria.

Abdurrahim Hamra of AS Chlef received the first yellow card in the match for rough tackle against Zaidu Ayuba at the centre of the field; the foul that led to the goal.

Gape Mohutsiwa of the Algerian club received the second booking for another rough tackle shortly before the half time.

The second half resumed with Insurance picking up from their first half performance, but were matched by the visitors who stepped up their game and became more tactical in search of an equalizer which they never got.

Notwithstanding, Sarki Ismael of Insurance came close to another goal in the 62nd minute, but his nod went slightly and painfully wide.

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Bendel Insurance will travel to Algeria for the return leg to seek a consolidation to qualify for the second round of the competition.

In his post-match interview, Coach Monday Odigie of Insurance said his team would work on their goal scoring before the return leg.

He praised his players’ effort in maintaining the lead to the end.

Asked for his thoughts regarding the upcoming second leg, the Bendel Insurance head coach said, “I am not thinking of the second leg, I am thinking of going back to the training ground to correct our mistakes. The second leg is one week away. When the time comes, I guess we would be there to play the second leg”.

On his impression about the just concluded game, Odigie said: “Very fair impression and encouraging one too. Playing on continental level is not a joke, this is the best team from Algeria , so it was a good outing as far as I am concerned. I’m worried about a few mistakes and will go back try to correct them before we go to the second leg.

“Football these days is all about the number of goals you score; it is the quality of football you play. Insurance is new in continental competitions. If they can put up this kind of performance, I am sure we can build on it”.

On his part, the Aso Chlef coach, Yaiche Rezoug, said, “The first half was very difficult for us, because we didn’t understand the [game] and you saw that they scored us. But when went back into the dressing room, we rearranged the team and you could see the second half was very very difficult for the team (Bendel Insurance). Unfortunately, our plan was for us to score and take home the away goals but we couldn’t, we have to give credit to the team but we felt that in second half we deserved more than we got.

“We have seen everything what Insurance have got to throw at us. Unfortunately, they are one goal ahead but we still have enough time to go back and reflect on what is happening right now. And we are going back to prepare extra hard and see their advantages and work on their disadvantages.

“In a few days from now, we will be very very ready to take up their team and we are very sure in Algeria we are going to take over.”

Also commenting on the game, Governor Obaseki expressed excitement at the quality of the team.

“We have a very good team, as you can see, very youthful, very strong, and very imaginative team. I am thrilled and pleased with their performance this evening,” Obaseki said.

“Well as you know, the weather was not particular clement , the pitch was not in his greatest form but you can see how well they performed , how much ball control they had in spite of the slippery field.

“I know from what has happened this evening, that having studied the other team (ASO Chlef) very closely and carefully, and with the kind imaginative coach we have, they are going to make sure that they put all the plans in place to come home with the victory always,” he said.