Enyimba striker Peter Onyekachi (left)
Thursday Apr 21, 2016. 14:27
Nigeria champions Enyimba showed character and commitment to scrape past Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia to the money-spinning group phase of the CAF Champions League, but they will need to do far more if they were to repeat their triumphs of 2003 and 2004.
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Enyimba last featured in the group stage of Africa’s foremost club competition five years ago with Sunshine Stars the last Nigerian club to qualify for this mini-league round of the tournament in 2012.
The focus of ‘The People’s Elephant’ to return to the top of the continent ensured they stayed alive in this year’s competition.
They knew that a big home win over Etoile will help their cause and so the 3-0 win in Port Harcourt.
They were equally aware Etoile will not surrender without a big fight, which was exactly what happened on Wednesday night before a capacity crowd at the Olympic Stadium in Sousse.
However, tactically they struggled in Tunisia and but for the lottery of the penalty shootout, would have crashed out of the competition without a trace had the game been decided first via extra time.
They simply parked the bus in front of the outstanding goalkeeper Theophilus Afelokhai and thereafter did very little elsewhere.
The plan for them to avoid conceding set pieces around their vital area failed woefully and it was from one of those set pieces – a free kick on top of the box – that Etoile opened scoring just before the interval through Hamza Lahmar.
They also conceded countless corners even though the Tunisians failed to capitalise on any of these set pieces to score.
Etoile not only bossed the possession from start to finish, but Enyimba did not have a midfield and they struggled for all 90 minutes to string four passes among themselves.
The suspension of Joseph Osadiaye and the early withdrawal of Ikechukwu Ibenegbu, who was just recovering from food poisoning, most certainly weakened their midfield.
Top striker Mfon Udoh was a lone ranger upfront and it was therefore very easy for the opponents to keep him at bay.
Etoile du Sahel goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi did not make a single save in the normal time to again call to question Enyimba’s tactics as well as the quality of their strike force.
It must also be worrisome that they have lost three of their away games in the Champions League – against Vipers (Uganda), Vital ‘O (Burundi) and Etoile.
In the mini-league stage of the Champions League, the seven-time Nigeria champions could well be up against some of Africa’s top teams like Al Ahly of Egypt, Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca, who sent defending champions TP Mazembe packing, AS Vita from DR Congo as well as ASEC Mimosas from Cote d’Ivoire.
They will most certainly have to make the best use of the two remaining squad places they have for this tournament to improve their midfield and attack as they aim for a third continental trophy.
The draw for the CAF Champions League group phase will be staged on May 24.