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11 Feb 2009 10:25
Big-spending and hyper-ambitious Sudanese club Al-Merreikh are in trouble just one match into their 2009 African Champions League campaign.
The Omdurman team managed only a 2-1 home victory over debutants Atraco of Rwanda, leaving the first round tie delicately balanced ahead of the return match in Kigali this weekend.
Elimination would be a massive blow for a club that has splashed millions of dollars to lure stars with Nigerian scoring sensation Stephen Worgu their prize capture.
Worgu burst into the Champions League last year, scoring an unsurpassed 13 goals as Enyimba of Nigeria reached the semi-finals before bowing to eventual winners Al-Ahly of Egypt in a tie settled by a solitary goal.
Ahly were also after Worgu, whose scoring exploits made him the hottest football property in Africa, but the Nigerian preferred Merreikh after a whirlwind visit to the vast east African country.
Although no Sudanese club has won the greatest prize on offer in Africa, Merreikh and fierce Omdurman rivals Al-Hilal have long been magnets for Nigerian footballers.
Among the teammates of Worgu are two compatriots, midfielder Endurance Idahor and striker Kelechi Osunwa, a proven scorer at Champions League level who crossed from Hilal recently.
Merreikh are back in the major continental club competition after twice coming close to winning the second-tier African Confederation Cup, reaching the 2007 final and just failing to repeat that feat last year.
Now the financial stakes are much higher, winning the Confederation Cup reaps $330 000 while lifting the Champions League brings one million dollars and an even larger sum from competing in the Fifa Club World Cup.
Taxi club Atraco won the Rwandan championship for the first time last year and a precious Omdurman goal from unknown Joseph Kabagambe means a 1-0 home win would take them through under the away-goal rule.
Merreikh, whose sole African title came in 1989 when they lifted the Cup Winners Cup, will have some idea what to expect in Kigali having forced a 0-0 draw there last year with Rayon Sport in a Confederation Cup qualifier.
Canon Yaounde of Cameroon, three-time African champions between 1971 and 1980, are another big-name club staring elimination in the face having been held 1-1 at home by Burundi visitors Inter Star.
It could have been even worse for Canon as they levelled through Mbete Mezang only five minutes from full-time after Harerimana Moussa opened the scoring just after the break.
Cara, who brought Congo their sole African Champions League title 35 years ago, appear doomed despite enjoying home advantage as tbey trail 5-2 against Angolan army outfit Primeiro Agosto.
But two other former title holders are safe as FAR Rabat of Morocco built a 6-1 lead over SC Praia, the Cape Verde club that eliminated them out at the same stage last year, while Club Africain of Tunisia received a bye.—Sapa-AFP
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