BY MUYIWA AKINTUNDE
The path to the final matches of both the CAF Champions League and the Confederation Cup will be drawn today at the October 6, satellite city to Cairo in Egypt.
Enyimba, Nigeria’s last team standing in international club competitions this season, will know their quarterfinal opponents and subsequent oppositions if they continue to progress in the CAF Confederation Cup.
Nigeria entered four teams for the continent’s inter-club tournaments. Kano Pillars, last season’s runners-up in the topflight domestic league and Federation Cup winners, were eliminated at the preliminary round of the CAF Champions League, while Niger Tornadoes, Federation Cup finalists, crashed out at the preliminary round of the CAF Confederation Cup.
Enyimba, who won the domestic league last season and were therefore registered for the elite Champions League, could not go beyond the first round as Sudan’s Al-Hilal triumphed 1-0 aggregate. The Nigerian champions thereafter continued their international journey from the play-off phase of the second-tier Confederation Cup.
The People’s Elephant joined Rangers in that competition and both of them made it to the group stage. Rangers had placed third in the domestic league last season to be registered for the Confederation Cup.
Rangers however left their chase for a quarterfinal place rather too late and could only end up as No 3 in Group A, while Enyimba were runners up in Group D.
Enyimba’s potential opponents in the quarterfinal will be drawn from a pool of two north African teams and a fellow West African opposition, namely Pyramids FC (Egypt), RS Berkane (Morocco) and Horoya (Guinea).
Cairo-based Pyramids eliminated more illustrious opponents in only their first time in the continent. If they are pitched against Enyimba, it will be the second trip to Nigeria for the Egyptian side who shocked Rangers 1-3 at Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu on Matchday 1 of the group stage. Although Rangers avenged themselves with a lone goal win in Cairo, that result was not enough to see the Flying Antelopes through to the last eight.
Berkane, who got to the final of this competition last season in their debut international outing, topped Group B this term, losing only to DR Congo’s Daring Club Motema Pembe by a lone goal. The Moroccan side had accounted for the exit of Ghananian club Ashanti Gold, and Fosa Juniors of Madagascar en-route the group phase.
Horoya, on their part, started this season in the Champions League, just like Enyimba. They defeated Mali’s Stade Malien 2-1 aggregate in the preliminary round. But the Guineans lost by penalty shootouts to JS Kabylie of Algeria in the first round to drop to the playoff round of the Confederation Cup where they beat Kenya’s Bandari FC 4-2 overall.
The 1978 African Cup Winners Cup champions then got pitched in Group C alongside Libya’s Al-Nasry, Djoliba of Mali and South Africa’s Bidvest Wits. Horoya won four and drew the remaining two of their matches to ease themselves into the quarterfinals.
The other teams in the CAF Confederation quarterfinals draw include Hassania Agadir, who topped Group D from where Enyimba emerged. There are also Al-Masry SC (Egypt), Zanaco FC (Zambia) and Al-Nasr SC (Libya), all group runners-up.
Enyimba’s qualification for the knockout stages as well as Rangers reaching the group stage of the Confederation Cup may save Nigeria from the experience of 2018 when the country’s entry for both the Champions League and Confederation was reduced from two to one team each.
In the 2017/18 season, for instance, Nigeria entered four teams – Plateau United and MFM for the Champions League, and Enyimba and Akwa United for the Confederation Cup – but only Enyimba reached the group stage.
Shooting Stars (1976), Rangers (1977) and BCC Lions (1990, also runners-up the following year) won the then African Cup Winners Cup, which evolved into the Confederation Cup with the merger of the CAF Cup in 2004.
Other Nigerian clubs that graced the final of either the CAF Confederation Cup or the African Cup Winners Cup included the now defunct Dolphins FC of Port Harcourt (2005), Julius Berger FC of Lagos (2003 and 1995), Esan FC (now Bendel Insurance) in 1989, Ranchers Bees of Kaduna (1988), Ibadan-based Leventis United (1985) and Stationery Stores of Lagos (1981).
Fixtures for the quarterfinals of this season’s CAF Champions League will also be unveiled. North Africa dominates the field having produced all but two of the teams that survived the group stage.
Challenging Tunisia’s Espérance for a third title on the bounce are record title holders Al-Ahly of Egypt, who have won it eight times. Both sides may go head-to-head as they are in separate pots and never met at the group stage.
Others TP Mazembe (DR Congo) and Zamalek (Egypt), both five-time champions.
Also in the cast are Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa), Wydad Casablanca (Morocco), Raja Casablanca (Morocco) and Étoile du Sahel (Tunisia), completing the list of past winners.
The first leg of the CAF Champions League will hold on February 28 and 29 with the reverse fixtures a week later.
In the Confederation Cup, the games will be on March 1 (first leg) and March 8 (second leg).