Where will Enyimba vs. Raja Casablanca be won and lost?

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What are the deciding factors in Wednesday’s Caf Confederation Cup semi-final first leg?

After surviving Rayon Sports of Rwanda hurdle in the last round of the Caf Confederation Cup, Nigeria’s remaining representatives on the continent, Enyimba are up against stiffer opposition in Raja Casablanca of Morocco in the semi-final of the second tier Africa’s club competition on Wednesday in Aba.

Having savoured the 5-1 whitewash of the Rwandan foes in the quarter-final the People’s Elephant know that they only have 180 minutes separating them from another final for the first time since 2004 when they successfully defended the Caf Champions League they won for the first time a year earlier. They managed to get to the semi-final in 2011 but they were eliminated by another Moroccan side, Wydad Casablanca.

Enyimba must start the first leg of the semi-final with a bang knowing that a lot will be on the plate if they allow their fate to be determined by the outcome of the return leg in Casablanca.

Here are the key elements that will determine where the game is won and lost:

 

GOALKEEPER

In the goalkeeping department, it will still be a straight fight between Ikechukwu Ezenwa who was at the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia with the Super Eagles and Theophilus Afelokhai who has had a brilliant performance since he snatched the first spot slot. Fatau Dauda, the third goalkeeper is unavailable for this tie for off-pitch disciplinary issues.

On current form, Afelokhai seems to be the preferred choice again as they prepare for Raja Casablanca tie having kept in all the team’s last four matches on the continent since he got the chance which he seized with both hands against Djoliba AC of Mali in August. He also kept a clean sheet in Enyimba’s 5-0 win against J. Atete in one of the group stage fixtures of the Federation Cup last Friday in Gombe.

It will be a tough decision to leave the former Kano Pillars shot-stopper out of the game if he is fit because of the synergy he has built up with his teammates in the last four games on the continent. The goaltender, however, has the tendency to switch off at the crucial stages of the game but he has worked on this. He needs to stay vigilant and be wary of Raja’s fast attackers if Enyimba are to go into the return leg with good first-leg advantage.

Ezenwa has not done badly too in all the matches he has featured in the Federation Cup. He has manned the post in four cup fixtures and has kept clean sheets in three of them. He has proved to be a capable reserve and Enyimba won’t fret even if an injury keeps Afelokhai out.

DEFENCE

Enyimba defence has managed to remain rock-solid since their massacre by CARA Brazzaville (3-0) and the underwhelming defeat to Williamsville of Cote d Ivoire (2-0). They did concede a goal against Rayon Sports of Rwanda but it was an overall classy display from the rear-guard of the People’s Elephant. The defence has only let in two goals in the last nine games in all competitions.

Ikouwem Utin, Andrew Abalogu, Ifeanyi Anaemena, Isiaka Oladuntoye and Nelson Ogbonnaya have been very active for the People’s Elephant in the Caf Confederation Cup campaign this term. Ikouwem and Abalogu have successfully featured in the left and right wing-back positions while Anaemena and Oladuntoye have paired in the central defence in the last four games and are expected to start again against Raja Casablanca.

Enyimba defenders can’t afford to be complacent despite their impressive performances in the last nine games. Raja have quality strikers that can wreak havoc if they are left to roam through the defence area. The People’s Elephant need to keep a clean sheet on Wednesday ahead of the return leg where they could be up against a volatile atmosphere in Casablanca.

MIDFIELD

Enyimba found a solution around their lack of creative midfielders in the last game with Rayon Sports with the use of two defensive midfielders: Austin Oladapo and Dare Ojo. They had a decent game and were made to work their socks off knowing that they were the eyes of the defence and the attack.

The midfield would have been seamless had injury not ruled Ikechukwu Ibenegbu and Farouk Mohammed out. Mohammed was massive against Djoliba of Mali but he has been ruled out of this encounter. The People’s Elephant also have Chinedu Udeagha to call upon in case Oladapo and Ojo have fitness issues.

Nigeria’s representatives have relied on the duo of Oladapo and Ojo in the midfield for their last two games on the continent against Rayon Sports but against Raja, this may backfire because the Moroccans have sharp midfielders and leaving only two players to do the man-marking job may prove ineffective.

ATTACK

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Enyimba strikers seemed to have woken up to the clarion call for them to brace up after some lethargic performances. The goals have started pouring in after they dismantled Rayon Sports 5-1 while their last fixture against J. Atete produced another 5-0 smashing in the Federation Cup.

The People’s Elephant attackers will need to do more if they are to deliver their club from the hands of Raja. Ibrahim Mustapha, Stephen Chukwude, Abdulrahman Bashir, Joseph Osadiaye, Wasiu Alalade, Stanley Dimgba and Sunday Adetunji must up their performance against the Moroccans.

There has been less talk about Mfon Udoh with the way his former teammates have responded to his exit but there won’t be too many chances against Raja on Wednesday and the few ones created must be well utilized if Enyimba are to remain in pole position for a final ticket heading into the return leg in Casablanca.         

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