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CAF Champions League

Caf Champions League: Will Enyimba overcome Al Hilal?

17:01 GMT+4 14/09/2019
The People’s Elephant have good track record against the Sudanese club, but will it count this time?

Aside from their maiden appearance in 2002 and then in 2014, reigning Nigeria Professional Football League champions Enyimba have always made it at least to the group stage of the Caf Champions League each time they compete in the competition.

After failing to make the cut in the past three seasons, Enyimba are back to compete in the continent’s premium club competition, and they have just one more hurdle to overcome to make it to the lucrative group stage.

Usman Abd’Allah’s men did well in the preliminary round where they dispatched Rahimo FC 5-1 over two legs to set up a tasty clash against Sudanese club Al-Hilal.

The same cannot be said of Al Hilal, who only progressed via the away goals rule having played a disappointing barren draw at home, and then forced Rayon Sports to a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture in Kigali.

While that singular unconvincing show may not be enough to downplay Al Hillal‘s chances against Enyimba, the fact that the Sudanese giants have failed to make it beyond the first round on three occasions in their last four attempts affords room for optimism.

However, Enyimba forward Stanly Dimgba believes it would be wrong to tip either team as favourites for the group stage.

“Yes, it is true that we won Rahimo 5-0 in our last match, but for me, no two games are the same," he told Goal. "Al Hilal are a big team in Africa, they have won the Champions League before just like us and they qualify almost every other year for this competition, so they have all the experience.

“We have to give our very best, we have been working hard and, by God’s grace, we will get a good result”

While Enyimba are making only a tenth appearance in the Champions League, their Sudanese foes boast of over 30 appearances.

Interestingly, these two sides are no strangers to each other, having met in the 2008 and 2011 editions of this competition.

In 2008, at the quarter-final stage, Enyimba got the job done; pummeling Al-Hilal 4-1 in Aba before going on to lose 3-2 in the second leg in Omdurman.

The 6-4 aggregate scoreline was enough for Enyimba to progress to the semis.

However, they chose a trickier route three years later; drawing 2-2 at home against this same opposition before going on to the dreaded Al-Hilal Stadium, Omdurman to record a famous 2-1 away win.

The need for Enyimba to put their best foot forward on Sunday cannot be overemphasised as Al Hilal and indeed other Sudanese teams have punished a handful of Nigerian clubs who failed in this regard.

A classic case was in 2006 when Enugu Rangers were sent packing from the Champions League after recording a 1-0 win in Enugu but were hammered 4-0 in Omdurman in the second leg.

A big win in Aba, preferably with a clean sheet, would put Enyimba in good stead as the People’s Elephant should learn from Kano Pillars, who could only get a 3-2 win over Asante Kotoko at home before losing 2-0 in Kumasi.

As good as a big win may sound, the case of Rivers United, two years ago, ought to remind Enyimba that the tie is not over until they've truly confirmed their place in the next round.

The Port Harcourt-based side felt they had done enough when they won their first leg Round of 16 Caf Confederation Cup tie against another Omudurman-based team, Al Merreikh, 3-0 only, for Stanley Eguma's men to be whitewashed 4-0 in the second leg.

With the hunger and optimism exhibited by this 'new' Enyimba team, they have the quality to get the job done, but ties like this can be decided on the tightest margins, and any complacency will be punished.