COMMENT By Kunle Fayiga Follow on Twitter
Enyimba’s task of making it to a first ever Caf Confderation Cup final would have been much easier if they had done themselves justice by getting a favourable result in their first leg semi-final against Raja Casablanca in Aba.
It turned out that the newly refurbished Enyimba Stadium was not much of a fortress, with the Green Eagles sealing a 1-0 win that gives them a massive edge ahead of the return leg this Wednesday.
All had been going well for the People’s Elephant since their journey started in the first round of qualification, and while they did have some obstacles that almost derailed their progress, coming up against a very experienced North African side would prove to be their biggest hurdle to date.
If they were to reach the final, they surely needed a big result at home in front of their own fans.
Raja Casablanca EN/NL 🌐 (@RCA_NL) October 22, 2018
Perhaps participating in this year's Aiteo Cup has been costly for Enyimba. Although they lacked match fitness due to the prolonged suspension of the Nigeria Professional Football League, which ultimately came to an abrupt end, the country’s oldest cup competition came at the time when the Confederation Cup was at its crucial stage.
The Federation Cup organisers didn't take Enyimba’s continental schedule into account, but rather put them through the same rigorous schedule as other local clubs, where 78 games were played in the space of 31 days between the round of 64 and semi-finals.
The bizarre group phase could have been a one-day round of 16 knockout format, and the extended format arguably cost Enyimba.
Losing at home almost means that Enyimba will be in Casablanca just for formality.— Latifat Adebayo Ohio (@Phatill) October 3, 2018
Usman Abdallah’s men did well to make progress but their journey ultimately came to an end at the quarter-final stage after losing 4-2 to Kano Pillars in Gombe.
That loss leaves the Confederation Cup as Enyimba's only hope of booking a continental berth next year, but as they're now on the back foot, is there hope for a comeback?
It’s just a 1-0 deficit, which on paper is easily reversible, but we have to factor in that the People’s Elephant travel to North African territory which isn’t the easiest of places to nick a win.
Raja are experts at disrupting visiting teams, and have already reportedly tried to foil Enyimba's training plans after arriving in Casablanca on Monday.
They should be wary of more distractions leading up to the matchday and the game itself.
Enyimba's chairman Felix Anyansi on their chances when they face Raja casablanca in 2nd leg of #cafc: "The match in Aba was just like the first half, so we are going to Casablanca for the second half. In football, it is never over until it is over. pic.twitter.com/4nUh1UqEQM— Miccliff_Eze (@Miccliff0) October 22, 2018
The only way Enyimba can turn the tide in their favour is by having self belief. This will go a long way in boosting their morale and influencing their gameplay.
This has always worked in the past, and nothing is impossible in football - Liverpool's 2005 Champions League final triumph being one example of a magnificent comeback when one side appeared down and out.
The seven-time NPFL champions will need to outplay Juan Carlos Garrido’s side and, above all, need luck to come their way.
Enyimba are up against it, but this is football after all, and stranger things have happened!