BY APESIN ADEMOLA.
The People’s Elephants chase two titles at both ends – at home and in the continent. And Enyimba appear set to make both happen. They are taking it one step at a time however.
First on the card is the CAF Confederation Cup, which is in its last four. Enyimba are not only seeking to win the title for the first time, but also aiming to redeem Nigeria’s image in continental club football.
Year after year, Nigerian teams have failed to fly in CAF competitions, last producing semi-finalists in the Champions League as far back as 2012 through Sunshine Stars, while the same club reached that same stage of the Confederation Cup in 2011. That poor run resulted in Nigeria having only one representative in each of the competitions, instead of two, from next edition.
Enyimba are quite experienced in the continent though. And Nigerian fans look up to them to take on Raja Casablanca headlong – warts and all. Off the field, the Moroccans tried to rattle their hosts by arriving ahead of the travel plans communicated to Enyimba hierarchy. More mind game will be expected from the north Africans in both legs.
The People’s Elephants won the Champions League in 2003 and 2004 but have never gone this far in the second-tier Confederation Cup. Until now, their best outing was second round exit in 2010.
Enyimba International Stadium in Aba, which was recently opened after renovation, is proving to be a fortress for the team. There, they walloped Rwanda’s Rayon Sports 5-1 10 days ago in the second leg of the quarterfinals. That was after a cagey lone goal result over CARA Brazzaville in the last match of the group stage.
A good result in Aba will put Enyimba in good stead ahead of the decider in Casablanca on October 24.
Raja have posted eight wins and three draws in this competition this year, banging in 27 goals and conceding only nine times. Their lone defeat came against DR Congo’s AS Vita Club 0-2 in the group stage.
The Moroccan side are force in the continent after lifting the elite CAF Champions League three times and the CAF Cup (the precursor of the Confederation Cup) on one occasion in 2003. They also won the CAF SuperCup 18 years ago.
When they are through in Aba, Enyimba will travel hundreds of kilometres by road to Gombe to honour Aiteo Cup quarterfinal date with Kano Pillars on Sunday.
Semifinals first leg: Enyimba (Nigeria) v Raja Casablanca (Morocco) (2pm), Al-Masry (Egypt) v AS Vita Club (DR Congo) (8pm)