The euphoria that greeted Enyimba’s triumph in the CAF Champions League in 2003 and the successful defense a year later is still very fresh in the minds of many.
Aside from that fact that the feat was historic, no other Nigerian club has come close to replicating what the Peoples’ Elephant did almost 14 years ago.
Despite the challenges witnessed by the Aba Landlords in the past years, they are on another road to history, this time in the CAF Confederation Cup.
A few days back, Enyimba in dramatic fashion booked their place in the quarter finals of the CAF Confederation Cup; a competition no Nigerian team has ever won in its present format.
Earlier in the week, the draws for the quarter-finals as well as the road to the final were unveiled and Enyimba now know they have three hurdles ahead of them before they write another chapter in history.
Enyimba’s Road To The Quarter Final
Having finished third in the 2016/17 Nigeria Professional Football season, Enyimba got the nod to represent Nigeria in what passes as the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League.
While Akwa United, Nigeria’s other representative in the competition fell by the wayside and could not make it into the group phase, Enyimba muscled their way through.
The journey for Enyimba started at neighbouring Benin Republic where the Peoples Elephant faced and trampled on Energie in the First Round of matches.
At the Stade de l’Amitié (Cotonou) in March 2018, Enyimba secured a 2-0 away win; and while many had thought it will be goals galore in the second leg weeks after, they barely won 3-2 at their then adopted home ground in Calabar.
For the group playoffs, Enyimba had to start the journey away from home again. But this time, it was far away in South Africa where they piped Bidvest Wits by a lone goal only to return home to settle for a 1-1 draw. Thankfully it was still enough to see the Nigeria flagbearer pull through to the group phase.
In the group phase after an initial shaky start, Enyimba picked themselves up and ended strongly; winning their last two games which saw them finish as the top team in Group C.
What was noticeable in the Enyimba ‘home’ games safe for the last one which was played in Aba was the fact that they lacked the 12th man in football, which is the crowd.
It is expected that if Enyimba can keep the momentum with which they have approached their continental games this season and come to finish off in Aba, they stand a very good chance of going all the way.
Going past Rayon Sports of Rwanda in the quarter-final stage is the immediate task for Enyimba.
For many, the Blues, as Rayon are fondly called, are the weakest team left in the Confed Cup.
They are to host the first leg in Kigali on September 16 with the return match seven days later at the renovated Aba stadium.
This is the fourth time Rayon will be competing in the CAF Confederation Cup with the past appearances being in 2006, 2008 and 2017.
Their run in 2018 in which they are already in the quarterfinals is their best ever; having crashed out in the First Round in 2006 and 2008 and barely scaling through to the Second Round in 2017.
Rayon are eight-time National League champions in Rwanda and are currently being handled by a Brazilian coach, Roberto Oliveira Goncalves do Carmo; a pointer to the fact that they can’t outrightly be seen as pushovers.
Enyimba captain Mfon Udoh says he and his teammates are not by any means carried away with how far they have come; but instead, are focused maximally on their next opponents in the competition.
“We need to be very cautious and shift all our attention to our next game,” he said after the victory over CARA in Aba.
“The competition is now at a stage that so many things will get involved for us to move to the next round. We must not allow anything to stop or distract us. We must forget about the game with CARA and remain fully focused on our quarter-final quest.
“I believe we have the players that can take us to the semi-final and even more but we need to show the right attitude. All the remaining teams are difficult to face but we will be happy to face any of them knowing that we have equal chances of progressing to the last four against them.”
Though Udoh holds the record of most league goals scored within a season (23), recent struggles with injuries has seen him fired blanks in the this year’s Confederation Cup.
He confirmed that he has regained match fitness and is gradually getting back his confidence that made him a terror to defenders.
“I tried my best to score against CARA but I guess I needed to do more,” he continued.
“I won’t relax until I am back to my best and the way I played showed that I am close to that.”
“I am confident that the true Mfon Udoh is back and that in the next few games I will start scoring again.”
If truly Mfon delivers the beautiful goals he is best known for, that will be good for Enyimba and indeed Nigeria.
On his part, the Enyimba coach, Usman Abdallah, has also stressed that the People’s Elephant’s immediate target is to progress to the semi-final of the competition.
He said:“We don’t need to over-celebrate it because we still have the big task ahead of us which is to qualify for the semi-final. It is our objective for now and we shall start our preparations towards that almost immediately.
“We can’t afford to joke with our next opponents. We shall prepare very well and it is our determination to qualify for the semi-final where I feel that anything can happen thereafter.
Indeed, anything can happen. However, if two-time African champions Enyimba progress, they are likely to meet title favourites Raja Casablanca of Morocco in the semi-finals in October.
Raja have won six and drawn three of 10 CAF matches this season. They have scored 24 goals and boast the leading individual scorer in 10-goal Mahmoud Benhabib.
In the quarter-finals, the Moroccans face CARA of Congo Brazzaville, who reached the last eight after winning all six home matches but losing all six on the road.
For now, fingers are crossed to see if indeed Enyimba will set another record to do what no other Nigerian team has done in the CAF Confederation Cup.