Posted by By Ademola Olajire on
Cup holders, Enyimba FC of Nigeria, know they would be virtually out of the running for this year’s CAF Champions League crown should they fail to defeat 1997 and 1999 champions, Raja Casablanca, in one of the Day 4 matches of the group phase, this weekend.
Cup holders, Enyimba FC of Nigeria, know they would be virtually out of the running for this year’s CAF Champions League crown should they fail to defeat
1997 and 1999 champions, Raja Casablanca, in one of the Day 4 matches of the group phase, this weekend. And the Moroccans know they would have greatly abbreviated their own chances of reaching the semi finals if they lose all points against the People’s Elephant.
These are the critical elements for a furious showdown between Africa’s most successful football clubs of the past decade, in South-Eastern Nigeria on Sunday afternoon.
The visiting ‘Green Devils’ are a shade ahead in confidence after winning the first match in Casablanca 1-0 two weeks ago. and sit in second place with four points in a group A entirely dominated by Africa’s Club of the Century, Al Ahly of Egypt, who have the maximum nine points from three matches. Champions in the past two years, Enyimba lie bottom of the pool with only one point from three games.
It has been a much below-par performance by the Aba millionaires, and club chairman, Felix Anyansi-Agwu is not a happy man. "We have let our fans down on few occasions and we just have to pick up and start performing. Some of the players have been low on discipline and dedication and this is the time for them to remember their promise to both the Governor and the people of Abia State, and drag the team back on course for a third title".
Anyansi-Agwu, the self-made businessman who has shepherded the club to its most wonderful and glorious years, is befuddled that some players have chosen this critical period, when Enyimba look to win the trophy for the third time and for keeps, and to go and win some good money in Japan while representing the continent at the FIFA World Championship, to go off the handle.
"I can’t really explain it. But let us leave all that aside now and concentrate on putting things back in shape. We have a chance to make it to the semi-finals, and that chance is winning our two consecutive home matches, and going to dig it to the ground against Ahly in Cairo in our last game. We won’t let the opportunity slip".
Veteran skipper, Abdelatif Jrindou rose above a static Enyimba defence to nod home a free-kick and secure all three points for the ‘Green Devils’ when both teams dug it out in Morocco’s commercial capital a fortnight ago. But Enyimba came out of the game feeling they should have won after defender, Yusuf Mohammed, scored from the penalty spot only to be asked to re-take by Gambian referee, Modou Sowe, and a clutch of chances were fluffed by atrocious finishing.
The champions take the pitch in front of their roarious supporters inside the Enyimba International Stadium knowing anything less than outright victory would mean bye-bye to their treasured crown, disappointment for mentor and financier, Governor Orji Kalu, despair for management and player-exodus of unimaginable magnitude.
"We cannot afford to lose out at this stage. We did very well in the first two rounds before things went down in the group phase. But we’ll pick up and see how far we can go. Our aspiration still remains winning the Cup for the third time and for keeps, and to go to Japan", said chief coach, Okey Emordi.
On Saturday, FIFA made the draw for the much anticipated Club World Championship, billed for Japan 11-18 December this year, with the winner of the African competition to meet the winner of the Asian championship on 11 December, the winner going on to play Brazilian champions, Sao Paulo, in the semi-finals. In the other pool, Oceania champions, Sydney FC, meet Deportivo Saprissa from Costa Rica, the victor going ahead to play European champions, Liverpool, in the other semi-final.
The champions in Japan will leave the Far East nation with a cheque for $4.5 million, the runners-up take $3.5 million, the third-placed team get $2 million and the fourth-placed earn $1.5 million. In the African championship, the winner nets $950,000, with $50,000 going to the country’s football federation.
The People’s Elephant lead the Nigeria Premier League standing after 22 weeks, with 41 points, but they were spanked in their last Champions League home match by Al Ahly and could only draw 1-1 with Ajax Cape Town in South Africa on the opening day of the group phase.
Only one point from a possible nine is not really the tally of champions, but goalkeeper and skipper, Dele Aiyenugba is calling on Nigerians to pray for the team and support them as they try to put the campaign back on the road. "We’re representing Nigeria as a whole and I believe Nigerians will pray for us and give us their maximum support so that we can still do something to reach the semi-finals.
After that, it is anybody’s championship". To reach the semi-finals, Enyimba must win tomorrow, claim all points against Ajax Cape Town in two weeks and earn at least a point from their Cairo confrontation with leaders, Ahly, on August 9. "It is not impossible. Enyimba have shown what they can do in Africa over the past two years and all they need do is get back to that form and do what they must do", said Abia State Commissioner-designate, Chief Emeka Inyama.
All roads lead to the Enyimba International Stadium arena tomorrow as Governor Kalu leads the supporters of the People’s Elephant to roar their team to victory and ‘shout down’ the ‘Green Devils’, as Coach Emordi sticks to goalkeeper Aiyenugba, defenders Yusuf Mohammed, Mutiu Adegoke, Odeh Ogar and Nojim Raji, midfielders Muri Ogunbiyi, Prince Olomu and Musa Aliyu and strikers Chiedozie Johnson, Joetex Frimpong and Atanda Sakibu.
World Youth Championship silver medallist, Solomon David Abwo, could come in for the disappointing Olomu, and he’s set to duel again with Moroccan youth international, Mouhsinne Iajour, who plays for Raja. Iajour, star of Morocco’s World Youth Championship campaign before his red card and his team’s elimination by Nigeria in the semi- finals, was architect of the goal Enyimba conceded in Casablanca two weeks ago.
Highly –talented and cunning, Iajour is a rising international striker and Romanian coach, Alexandre Moldovan, in his third spell in charge of the ‘Green Devils’ will keep faith with him alongside Abdelatif Jrindou and goalkeeper Mustapha Chadli. Raja welcome back defender Hesham Mesbah, suspended for the first leg, while Coach Moldovan will rue the departure of veteran midfielder, Hicham Aboucherouane, to Nice in the French league on loan. Libyan referee, Abdelhakim Shelmani, is at the center. In other matches, Ahly expect to win in Cape Town against newcomers, Ajax, at the Athlone Stadium in downtown Cape Town tomorrow evening. The homers lost the first meeting in Cairo 2-0 against the five-time African champions. Portuguese coach, Manuel Jose is in a happy mood following his boys’ great campaign in his second stint at the ‘Red Devils’ and will trust Mohamed Barakat, Ahmed Bilal, Mohamed Shawky, Emaid Moteib, Abu Treka, Hossam Mostafa, Ahmed Said, Careca and Camara to pick another maximum points.
Ajax coach, Gordon Igesund has, however, been in the Champions League before with Manning Rangers, and knows it is no easy meat. He would spell the word for players like Kanka Mutekelayi, Tshinyama Tsholola, Brent Carelse, Lunga Dlangudlangu, Wilfred Mugeyi, Bradley August, Brett Evans, Nathan Paulse and Shabalala to go all out. The match will be handled by Angolan referee, Bernado Colembi.
In group B, where no team has won or lost, Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia, which parade Nigerians, Austin Ejide and Emeka Opara, and Ghanaian, Charles Taylor and Ivorian, Kandia Traore, host ASEC Mimosas from Cote d’Ivoire today at the Stade Olympique, both teams having finished it 1-1 in Abidjan two weeks ago. Ugandan referee, Muhmed Segonga is at the center. Ghanaian referee, Agbeyenga Agbeko is on duty tomorrow at the Stade El Menzah in Tunis, where 2000 finalists, Esperance, tackle 2002 champions, Zamalek, for three vital points. Both teams ended it 1-1 in Cairo a fortnight ago but supporters of the ‘Blood and Gold’ will be roaring their team to a first win in the group phase.
In the Confederation Cup, Nigeria’s double champions, Dolphin, last night played Ismaili of Egypt, the 2003 Champions League finalists who won away to FC 105 in Gabon two weeks ago. Dolphin left Lagos on Tuesday with a pledge to take all three points on offer. In Ghana, King Faisal will host AS Marsa from Tunisia, while Royal Armed Forces of Morocco are at home to Fello Star Labe from Guinea, 1-0 losers to King Faisal in the opening round. In Cairo, Arab Contractors are home to FC 105 from Gabon.
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