COMMENT By Kunle Fayiga
Since the Caf Confederation Cup changed to its new format, no side from Nigeria has ever clinched Africa's secondary club competition.
As Akwa United and Enyimba prepare to take on Libya’s Al-Ittihad and Benin Republic’s Energie FC respectively in their First Round first legs this week, Goal asks whether either of the NPFL's representatives could change finally become Nigeria's first winner of the competition as it exists today.
Despite having never produced a winner, Nigerian sides have almost gone the distance in the tournament on several occasions.
The now-defunct Dolphins made to the 2005 final against FAR Rabat of Morocco, while Bayelsa United and Sunshine Stars reached the semi-finals in 2009 and 2001 respectively.
Despite their struggles in the competition since its reboot, Nigerian sides have enjoyed historic success in Caf's second-tier club tournament.
Shooting Stars won it when it was called the African Cup Winners' Cup back in 1976 – the first Nigerian team to win a continental title, before Enugu Rangers went on to win it the following year.
BCC Lions claimed it in 1990, while Shooting Stars lifted it again in 1992, this time under its guise as the Caf Cup, as did Bendel Insurance in 1994.
Before the transition to the Confederation Cup, Stationary Stores (1981), Leventis United (1985), Ranchers Bees (1988), Esan FC (1989) and Julius Berger (1995 and 2003) were all runners-up.
Can this year’s participants make history and follow in the footsteps of some of these illustrious old sides?
Akwa Utd at Al Ittihad(Libya), The promise keepers need to get a good result in the first leg, as it is going to be a difficult tie for them— Areo Samueli O. (@Undisputed_Jsam) March 5, 2018
Based on their current form in the NPFL, Akwa United and Enyimba look poised to progress to the next round.
The Promise Keepers sit in sixth place, four points from the summit of the log with two outstanding games to play, while the People’s Elephant lie in fourth, three points behind table-toppers Kano Pillars with a game in hand.
Abdu Maikaba has a talented squad at his disposal having invested wisely during the transfer window.
Some of their impressive results include the opening day 2-0 victory at home to 2016 NPFL Champions Enugu Rangers and the 4-0 bashing of Maikaba’s former side Wikki Tourists.
On the road, they've seen off Niger Tornadoes in Lokoja and drawn at FC Ifeanyi Ubah.
Paul Aigbogun’s side got the better of reigning champions Plateau United in Calabar, while claiming victory at 2016 runners-up Rivers United and holding El-Kanemi Warriors and Kano Pillars to stalemates in Maiduguri and Kano respectively.
The People’s Elephant's continental opponents, Benin Republic’s Energie, got the better of Guinea’s Hafia FC in the previous round and cannot be taken lightly after winning 2-1 on aggregate.
Al-Ittihad provide more testing opposition for Akwa United.
They finished as runners-up in the 2017 Libyan Premier League and put in a dominant display against Sahel FC of Niger over two legs, thumping them 4-0 on aggregate. North African territory hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Nigerian teams, and the Promise Keepers will have to put in something special if they are to progress.
It is worth noting that 17 Nigerian clubs have participated in the Confederation Cup but only seven have made it to the group phase.
It's a poor record, and serves to explain why some Nigerian teams have a haphazard attitude towards the competition, with boards typically offering little incentives for teams in the tournament.
However, this excuse will not be relevant for either United or Enyimba, both of whom are enjoying high morale at the moment.
There's a long way to go, of course, but expect at least one of these two to continue to fly the flag for Nigerian teams in the Caf Confederation Cup beyond this round.