COMMENT By Kunle Fayiga
Mountain of Fire FC might be having a Jekyll and Hyde run in the Nigeria Professional Football League at the moment, but the same can’t be said in the Caf Champions League, where the Lagos-based team are on the brink of reaching the competition's group phase at the very first time of asking.
After claiming a 2-1 aggregate victory over Malian giants Real Bamako in the Preliminary Round, Fidelis Ilechukwu’s men exceeded expectations by seeing off MC Alger - who beat Congolese side Otoho d'Oyo 9-2 on aggregate in the previous round - 2-1 at the Agege Stadium last week.
A penalty from Chijoke Akuneto and a 35-yard screamer from Monsuru Bashiru six minutes from time ensured progress for the debutants, as they proved just what an exciting team they were, but can they get the job done when they meet the Algerian giants again in the second leg this weekend?
Speaking to Goal after the game, club captain Austine Opara said he was thrilled by the result.
"The team did well," he began. "MC Alger are not an easy team, they put us under pressure but we played as a team and got the result we wanted.”
Opara also insisted that motivation in the team remained high despite the threat posed by Alger, especially the glaring height advantage they had over MFM’s shorter players.
"I believe we can take on any opponent, that's why we play football," he continued. "It's not about their height or anything but the confidence to play any team. That is our motivation.”
Goal also caught up with assistant coach Alli Suleman Obinna, who was of the opinion that the team’s performance against Real Bamako means they were well prepared for this tie.
"MC Alger are a great side technically and tactically but we did well to handle their threat," he continued. "Real Bamako were also tough opponents but we won and this helped us here.
"This is our first time on the continent and the boys have done well so far."
This victory against an Algerian giant is worth celebrating for a club that gained top-flight promotion in Nigeria just two years ago. That they're able to match teams such as MC Alger, one of Africa's heavyweights, is testament to their rapid growth.
However, it is not the time to get carried away as the second leg in Algiers will be the biggest game in the club's history to date.
The Olukoya Boys head to the Algerian capital this Saturday with their opponents having a vital away goal, scored by Aziovez Amachi, and will face an electric crowd of 64,000 at Stade 5 Juillet 1962.
MFM can’t afford to allow this slip as Nigerian clubs have had a history of struggling to get good results in North Africa. However, skipper Opara believes his team have got what it takes to get the job done.
"[MC Alger] believed they were coming here for a point but we are going there with everything we have and also can get a point."
Coach Obinna also thinks his side can seal a favourable result in Algiers, but stressed his side won’t go there just to defend.
"MFM will go all out to look for the point but we are not going to defend because it will put pressure on the team," he began.
“We are working on our pattern, reaction and movement all to make sure we get at least a point in Algiers," he continued. "This is very possible, it is football, so we make sure that we attack them as well."
Should MFM get the desired result at the Stade 5 Juillet 1962 on Saturday evening and reach the CAF CL group stage, it would be yet another outstanding achievement - the greatest - in their brief history to date.
It will not only represent a key signpost in their meteoric rise, but will also demonstrate that they are building resilience in away games - solving a worrying problem - and have the maturity to go far in this year's Champions League.