News Live Scores
Features & Opinions

Can Enyimba conquer the Caf Confederation Cup after Champions League exit?

16:48 BST 02/10/2019
Ifeanyi Anaemena-Enyimba-Nasr-Eldin-Ahmed-Al-Hillal
The People’s Elephant still have a chance for glory after a painful exit from the continent’s top-tier club competition

The hope of a possible third Caf Champions League triumph for Enyimba and by extension, Nigeria, was extinguished over the weekend in Omdurman.

After a barren draw in the first leg of the first round tie in Aba, where the People’s Elephant failed to make their domestic and numerical advantage count, coach Usman Abd’Allah’s men were edged out by Al-Hillal through a solitary goal later described as ‘stupid’ by the Enyimba manager.

Painful as that might be, the only consolation for the two-time African champions is that they will get another shot at winning a Caf competition this season by competing in the second-tier Confederation Cup.

All 16 first-round losers from the Champions League drop into the Confederation Cup, and will play the outstanding teams in that competition across two-leg play-offs for spots in the group phase.

Even though the Champions League is far more lucrative and prestigious, this is might be another chance for Enyimba to make history, as a Nigerian team has never before won the tournament.

While Enyimba have 10 appearances in the Champions League to date, this will only be a third showing in the second-tier competition, having debuted in 2010 and returned eight years later.

In 2010, Enyimba did not make it past the Round of 16, but they had a far better outing in 2018 when they made it all the way to the semi-final before they were stopped by Raja Casablanca who beat them home and away.

Solve the ongoing issues

It is expected that, if Enyimba can solve some of the ongoing issues that conspired against them in the Champions League, they stand a good chance in the Confederation Cup.

With their massive recruitment during the transfer window which saw as much as 10 players moving to Aba from different clubs in Nigeria and even from Ghana,  it seems Enyimba are yet to truly settle.

The lineups for the four games played in the Champions League saw frequent changes that suggest the manager still experimenting to get his most-trusted starting XI.

With the experiences from the Champions League and other practice games, it is expected coach Abd’Allah now has a better grasp of his team and this knowledge should help in mounting a better challenge in the Confederation Cup.

It was also noted that most of the new Enyimba recruits are only just settling down to life at the club and for some of them, like Abiodun Adebayo who made a switch from Abia Warriors, this is only the first time they are playing on the continent.

Having received their 'baptism of fire' on the continent, one would expect these players should be able to hold their own in the Confederation Cup.

Another possible factor which affected Enyimba in the Champions League was the inactivity in the Nigeria Professional Football League, where they are the defending champions.

Coach Abd’Allah complained profusely about this, adding that shopping for practice games to get in shape was cumbersome.

Asked in a recent interview if the postponement of the league is affecting his side’s fitness, the Enyimba manager said: “Yes, of course, because look at us looking for matches.

"Supposing the league has started, we would have used it to keep in shape and have competitive matches, but as always in Nigeria for the past years, it’s been like that.

"Continental starts before the league until maybe the calendar is changed, which I think is what [the LMC] tried to do last year, and still, they are lagging behind. I hope the league starts early."

It is expected that the 2019/20 NPFL season will get in full swing any time soon, and that should not just help Enyimba, but also Enugu Rangers, who are flying the country’s flag in the Confederation Cup.

If there is one big lesson Enyimba should have learned again from the Champions League this season, it is to get the job done when playing at home.

For many, the greatest undoing for the reigning NPFL champions was their failure to beat the Sudanese side at home.

With decent sides like Asante Kotoko, Gor Mahia and Young Africans all in Confederation Cup, Enyimba have a tough task to claim continental glory. However, if they learn their lessons, nothing should be beyond the NPFL champions.