The Owerri side remain optimistic they can qualify with a good result in the second leg in Brazaville
Heartland will have a mountain to climb in a fortnight in Brazzaville after the Owerri side could only muster a narrow 3-2 win in Owerri against Congolese side, Athletic Club Leopards. The Naze Millionaires were sluggish from the start and their Congolese opponents took the initiative.
AC Leopards thereafter took the game to Heartland and it was not long before their enterprise paid off with Kombo Bienveni getting the first goal of the match in the 24th minute. Bienveni benefitted from sloppy defending from the hosts to jab home for the opener and a stunned Heartland had to react and Kabiru Umar equalised three minutes later.
At the restart of the second half with scores at 1-1, Heartland hauled off ineffective Bello Kofarmata for Brendan Ogbu and the former Rangers forward made a telling contribution when he got his club's second goal with his first touch of the game in the 64th minute. The Congolese did not give up and sought an equaliser. They duly got back on level pegging in the 71st minute after another loss of concentration from Heartland defenders. Bhabey Ndey pounced on the slack defending after the Nigerian team failed to properly clear their lines from a free kick.
The 2011 Federation Cup kings thereafter poured forward in search of the winning goal but were undone by a lack of co-ordination in front of goal and the strikers missed golden opportunities to pull ahead.
Heartland continued to knock on the door and were rewarded for their persistence in the 80th minute when the impressive Osas Okoro meandered his way through after dribbling two AC Leopards players, the Super Eagles player slipped the ball past the onrushing Lutunu Dule for his side's third goal.
Technical Adviser of Heartland, Lodewijk de Kruif admitted his team had a mountain to climb in Brazzaville but cautioned that they would do everything possible to get a good result in Brazzaville.
"We played very well but goals refused to come. I am proud of the performance of my boys and we are going to do everything possible to get a good result in Congo," de Kruif said.
Congolese defender, Makinta Fabry praised the Heartland players but assured that the Congolese will turn the tables when they get home. “Heartland played very well but we are going to win in Brazzaville. We have the players to do that and that is exactly what we are going to do," Fabry confidently said.