Once a formidable Nigerian club, Bendel Insurance, back in Africa after a 17-year absence, were handed a challenging passage on Tuesday to the CAF Confederation Cup group stage.

They must overcome two North African teams — ASO Chlef of Algeria and Renaissance Berkane of Morocco — to reach the mini-league phase where prize money kicks in.

In the draws in Cairo, Bendel drew Chlef in the preliminary round during August and, if successful, will tackle 2020 and 2022 title-holders Berkane the following month.

Nigerian clubs have generally struggled against those from the north during the past decade, and the odds are against Insurance being among the 16 survivors from two qualifying rounds.

Bendel have been a force to reckon with, reaching the semi-finals of the 1979 African Cup Winners Cup and the 1980 African Cup of Champions Clubs, forerunner of the CAF Champions League.

In 1994, the club from Benin City, 300 kilometres (185 miles) east of the commercial capital Lagos, went all the way in the CAF Cup, defeating Primeiro Maio of Angola in the final.

But the fortunes of the club then plummeted and included several spells of second-tier football in the most populous African country.

Victory over Enugu Rangers in the final of the 2023 Federation Cup — the Nigerian equivalent of the FA Cup in England — secured Bendel a place in the secondary African club competition.

No Nigerian club has lifted the Confederation Cup and the other representatives this season, Rivers United, appear a better bet to go far.

The 2023 quarter-finalists received a preliminary-round bye and should be capable of getting past Casa Sports of Senegal or Etoile Filante of Burkina Faso in a last-32 clash.

USM Alger became the first Algerian team to win the African version of the UEFA Europa League in 2023, edging surprise finalists Young Africans of Tanzania on away goals after a 2-2 stalemate.

They are likely to face 2010 Confederation Cup title-holders FUS Rabat of Morocco for a place in the group phase, where the minimum prize money is $400,000 (€360,000).

FUS were not among the 12 clubs who received byes into the round of 32, but it would be a shock if they failed to overcome debutants AS Loto of Benin.

Zamalek of Egypt, the 2019 Confederation Cup title-holders and winners of 11 CAF titles across four competitions, should prove too strong for Arta Solar 7 of Djibouti or Horseed of Somalia.




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