Defender Ifeanyi Anaemena believes a statement victory over South African stalwarts Bloemfontein Celtic in the Confederation Cup, could see several Rivers United players earn call ups to Nigeria’s national team.
The Pride of Rivers face Celtic on Wednesday at the Dr. Petrus Molemela Stadium before welcoming John Maduka’s side to Port Harcourt on 6 January for the return fixture.
While United vanquished Futuro Kings in the previous round, Celtic saw off Maniema Union although both teams required penalties in the second leg to navigate past their opponents.
Anaemena alongside goalkeeper Theophilus Afelokhai crossed state lines to join Rivers United on a free from eight-time Nigerian champions Enyimba in the close season.
Head coach Stanley Eguma admitted the experience of the former Enyimba duo who reached the 2018 Confederation Cup semifinals and played key roles as the Aba Elephants reached the quarter-finals of the same competition last season, was a major reason behind their acquisition.
While the strength of his experience means he will be relied upon to guide younger members of the squad for whom this season represents a first foray into continental football, Anaemena maintains the team’s younger players possess the character to blossom rather than wilt against the South Africans.
Having been one of a very select few to earn a call up to Gernot Rohr’s Super Eagles as a player in Nigeria’s domestic league, Anaemena believes a similar fate beckons for any of his teammates who can seize the “good platform” the Confederation Cup tie against Celtic presents to press home their claims and grab the attention of Rohr who is famously resistant to calling up home-based players.
“There are a lot of younger players in the team, their first time of playing in the continent,” the former Giwa FC centre-back said from the team’s base in Bloemfontein.
“I believe it’s going to be a massive encouragement for them to play in the continent and looking forward to be invited to the national team this is a good platform for them and I know by God’s grace a lot of good players, talents that are in team will get a good outing from here and get a national team call up.”
With only Rivers United and Enyimba left of Nigeria’s continental representatives following the ouster of Kano Pillars and Plateau United, Anaemena admits the team feels the weight of expectation from Nigerians to stay in the competition.
The former Enyimba stalwart says the players more than anyone else understand “what is at stake” and are self-motivated and have taken personal responsibility to give themselves the best possible chance of making the group stage.
“Right from when we left Nigeria for South Africa and before we got to Bloemfontein town, it was a huge motivation for us we are been been psyched up positively because we know what is at stake. Every Nigerian has a huge expectation in this game knowing that we only have Enyimba and Rivers United in the continent so, I think we are highly motivated.
“Even if the club is not motivating us and no body is motivating us, we need to motivate ourselves because it is our careers because we know what we are going to gain if we can scale through and enter the group stage, so it’s good for us
Their last trip away from home ended in a 2-1 loss at Futuro Kings, a result they were able to turn around only by the skin of their teeth and the lottery of penalty kicks in the return leg .
Ahead of the match against Celtic, the 28-year-old Anaemena says Nigerians should have “great hope” the team will leave South Africa with a “positive result” that will ensure they can finish the job at home with relative ease to make the group stage.
“I have to tell every lover of football especially Nigerians, Rivers United supporters and every other person that they should have great hope and give us good support that by God’s grace we are going to come out with a good result and positive result.”
No Nigerian team has won the CAF Confederation Cup in its present guise, with Rivers United (then Dolphins) the only side to reach the final where they lost to FAR Rabat of Morocco 3-1 on aggregate in 2005.