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CAF Champions League

MFM set for CAF Champions League struggle after poor NPFL start

03:03 GMT+3 09/02/2018
MFM vs. Kwara United
The Olukoya Boys haven’t started the new season on a good note, and this could affect their prospects on the continental stage


The 2018 Nigeria Professional Football League season is now in full gear and one of the teams to have endured a particularly newsworthy start to the campaign is Mountain of Fire FC.

Having finished in an unprecedented second place, just four points behind eventual champions Plateau United, in 2017, the Olukoya Boys' expectations couldn’t be any higher as they will participate in the Caf Champions League this year alongside the Peace Boys.

They take on Malian outfit Real Bamako in the preliminary round this Sunday, and there’s considerable excitement as continental football returns to Lagos for the first time since 2004 when Julius Berger FC (now Bridge FC) participated.

14 years is an awful long time not to see Africa’s largest city represented on the continent, but will MFM be able to further defy the odds as they’ve been doing since gaining promotion in 2016 and rising meteorically?

The church-owned team have not started the new campaign on a positive note, winning three of their opening seven games and losing four. While it is the norm to see NPFL teams aim to win at home and gain points on the road, MFM have not been convincing enough on their own turf.

In all games played at the Agege Stadium so far, they have failed to assert their dominance in the manner they did last term. They haven’t been too strong in midfield, often gifting possession needlessly to the opposition which has left coach Fidelis Ilechukwu often frustrated. He has stressed that much shouldn’t be expected from his team on the continent.

“I can’t promise anything concerning the CAF Champions League because of our situation now. The truth is that we are not ready for the continental is not magic and we cannot perform magic.” Ilechukwu told media after his side’s 2-1 win at home to FC Ifeanyi Ubah.

Does this mean that he isn't expecting them to go past the first hurdle in this year's competition, starting with a trip to Bamako on Sunday?

The attack hasn’t been sharp enough and that could owe to the fact that the team failed to get an adequate replacement for their all-time top scorer Stephen Odey, who joined Swiss outfit FC Zurich last year.

Sikiru Olatunbosun hasn’t yet brought the spark that many would have expected after topping last term’s NPFL assists charts and also scoring seven goals.

MFM seem to have put trust in Adebayo Waheed to lead the frontline, but despite scoring two goals so far, he doesn’t look like someone who could fill Odey’s shoes.

The 2007 Church World Cup champions do have Akila Jesse in their ranks and he’s shown a bit of promise, netting twice. He’s very pacey, skilful, and is worth keeping tabs on.

There’s also Abiodun Ayinde, signed from Niger Tornadoes, but the forward hasn’t seen any significant action just like he did with his former employers last term.

Ilechukwu’s side’s away form has dropped drastically, further prompting concern ahead of their trip to the Malian capital.

Last season, they played with the strongest available squad and got some credible results such as victories at Remo Stars and Sunshine Stars while getting draws at Shooting Stars and Enyimba.

They gave teams a run for their money, but towards the tail end of the campaign, their performance dropped and they became easy prey. What’s more is that Ilechukwu started picking second-string sides, leaving key players back home.

He has employed such an approach again this term, and it probably explains why they haven't secured any result away from home while the likes of Akwa United and defending champions Plateau United have already bagged some big victories.

If Mountain of Fire FC can’t get their act right and improve on their approach to games, they may struggle to maintain last season's performance, and can forget about a title challenge. Sunday's trip to Bamako represents a stern test, and one in which their ropey away form could ensure an early setback on their road to continental glory.