There is another jinx to bury as the Elephants go for the country’s first CAF Confederation Cup. Playing against teams from South Africa and the two Congos never led them to the cup in past continental tournaments.
Enyimba won the Champions League 15 years ago and retained it in 2004.They did not face opponents from South Africa or Congo. Among teams they crushed on the way to cup glory were the dreaded North African quartet of Ismaili, Egypt, Esperance and Etoile Sahel of Tunisia and Algeria’s USM Alger.
In 2005, Enyimba tackled the South Africans for the first time. Ajax Cape Town got a 1-1 draw at home and lost 2-0 in Aba. It turned out to be a sad year for the defending champions who wanted to win the trophy for keeps.
Their former goalie, Sam Okoye, died in Iran where he went for trials. Then in the group stage, Al Ahli of Egypt, became the first to beat Enyimba home and away in an international competition.
After a 1-0 blunder in Aba, they needed a draw in Cairo to go into the semi finals. Atanda Sakibu got the opener in the 27th minute and the Aba Ngwa Boys even had a goal disallowed. At the end, Ahli won 2-1. The dream was over.
In 2006, Orlando Pirates came. One of their stars was, Onyekachi Okonkwo, who was part of the Enyimba cup winning teams of 2003 and 2004. Another Nigerian, Willy Okpara, was Goalkeepers’ trainer.
The Buccaneers scored first and were running away with a lone goal victory before Chidozie Johnson equalized in the 66.th The worst came in the second leg where Onyekachi shook the net in the 30th minute to send his former team out. Enyimba needed just a draw to hit the semis.
It was the turn of Mamelodi Sundowns in 2016. The hosts bagged a 2-1 win in Pretoria after Oluwadamilare Ojo’s 59th minute leveler. In Port Harcourt, Enyimba won 3-1 thanks to John Uche’s strike and Mfon Udoh’s brace.
Sundowns went ahead to lift the cup. The Peoples Elephant could not advance to the last four. And that was the season Udoh emerged as Top Scorer with Nine goals.
In 2018, we are talking of the Confederation Cup. Enyimba flew South again, to face Bidvest Sports who had fallen from the Champions League ladder. Led by Supersports analyst, Gavin Hunt, the hosts bagged a 1-1 result. In goal for the Abia team was Fatou Dauda, ex-Orlando Pirates.
Like in 2005 when they lost an ex-player, Okoye, the man who captained them in 2016, Chinedu Udoji died in a car crash last February. He joined Kano Pillars and was on his way to see his former colleagues after a 1-1 draw in the Premier League between both clubs in Kano.
Enyimba qualified on away goal rule after a barren ending in Aba. Some members of the 2016 squad are in the 2018 team. They include Udoh, Ojo, Thomas Afelokhai, Andy Abalogu, Joe Osadiaye and Ikechukwu Ibenegbu.
This is Enyimba’s second Confederation Cup outing. Their 2010 debut was a disaster. Hammered 4-0 by Zambia’s Zanaco in the quarter final, a 2-0 win in Aba was not enough.
In the Second Round, they got a 3-0 drubbing from Vita Club, Congo. Saving grace was a 6-5 penalties result after aggregate scores stood at 3-3. Chijioke Ejiogu saved two of the kicks.
The Congolese first came in the Champions League in 2006 through FC Lupopo of Congo DR. Enyimba defeated them in both legs. That was the year Orlando Pirates sent the Nigerians packing.
TP Mazembe appeared in 2008. A year, Stephen Worgu, scored 13 goals to top the Champions League chart. The Central Africans beat their foes 3-0 in Lubumbashi and got a 2-0 defeat in Nigeria. Enyimba did not win the cup.
In 2011, Enyimba also humbled St. Michael de Ouenze twice. That was perhaps a season the Aba Ngwa side would have grabbed their third continental laurel. They were unbeaten in 11 Champions League games, until they met WAC of Morocco.
WAC made it 1-0 in Casablanca and a goalless draw was enough for them to move into the finals and win. Coach Okey Emordi’s second coming after 2004 did not yield the best. He took a walk.
In this year’s Confederation cup, Cara, Congo hit Enyimba 3-0 in Brazzaville and despite Enyimba’s late minute goal in Aba, both teams are still in the competition.
The question now is: Will Enyimba win the Confederation Cup in 2018 after meeting opponents from South Africa and the Congos in earlier rounds?
My answer is yes. Enyimba have what it takes to turn the tide. In 2003, and again in 2004, when they ended as cup winners, there was a clutch of ECOWAS internationals. Asamoah Joetex Frimpong of Ghana, Muri Ogunbiyi and fellow Beninois, Jonas Oketola.
This year there are the Ghanaian trio of Fatou Dauda, Farouk Mohammed, Taofic Omar and Togolese, Franco Atchou.
In 2004, Coach Miroslav Urukalo abandoned Enyimba after Angola’s Petro Atletico forced them to a first home draw,1-1, in Aba, during an international duel. Emordi stepped in to win the second leg in Luanda. And the cup much later.
That could happen in 2018. Paul Aigbogun left midway. Usman Abdallah took over and is winning.
Nothing lasts forever. I have followed Enyimba since birth in 1976. I was there when they lifted the Champions League in far away Ismailia in 2003. They do things in a different way. No Nigerian team ever beat North African opposition in the Champions League final, Enyimba did it twice.
What elder brother, Rangers, could not do in 1975, Shooting Stars failed to achieve twice, 1984, 1996 and twin brother, Hearland, have failed to do two times, 1988, 2009, Enyimba did. Not once. Twice.