– Nnanna Kalu
In football circles, rivalries are forged and deepened with every competitive match between two contending teams. So on Sunday, April 10, 2016, Enyimba Fc will renew hostilities with Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium, Port Harcourt. A venue which serves as the Peoples’ Elephants temporary home for Continental matches pending the completion of work on the turf of their spiritual home in Aba.
This is one fixture that got fans of both clubs circling the date of the epic battles- over 2legs- in a calendar, in view of the decisive single ticket on offer in a winner-takes-all duel between two African club giants in this year’s CAF premier club competition. An early exit for either of the sides would blight the overall season of the losing team, and enhance the bragging rights of the winner. So expect all stops to be pulled out in a bid to outwit each other and ensure safe passage to the money-spinning group stage.
The first chapter of the Enyimba/Etoile book of rivalry was penned in 2004 with a CAF Super cup clash. A match that symbolises the beginning of a new season for CAF club competitions and also doubles as a decider between the CAF Champions league winners and African cup winners’ cup (as was then known) holders in a Champions of Champions match with a trophy to boot.
Although Etoile du Sahel had huge presence in the continent long before Enyimba arrived the African football scene in 2002, and won it the next year to break the drought that prompted the word “elusive” to gain prominence whenever Nigerian club sides were mentioned in CAF champions league circles. A demeaning narrative that spanned over 3 decades.
The 2004 CAF Super Cup encounter set the stage for a deepening rivalry, which Enyimba drew the first blood with a Bob Osim’s 20th minute pile driver proving enough to settle the issue. Although Enyimba had to hang on for dear life in the final minutes as Skipper Zoubeir Beya sought to single-handedly pull Etoile from the brink of defeat. The Aba giants held on to record another first, increasing the smiles on the faces of Enyimba FC faithful.
If the soil for an emerging rivalry was wetted with the CAF super cup diadem, then the seeds were sown when both clubs were drawn in the same group for the 2004 CAF Champions league last eight. Enyimba and Etoile made flying starts, amassing maximum points in the first two matches in a group of four -the others, Bakili Bullets (Malawi) and Africa Sports d’Abidjan (CIV). The double-header between them was billed as the decider for the leader of the log. In sousse, it took a Zoubeir Beya’s 89th minute goal for Etoile to pip Enyimba to the maximum points in Matchday 3.
The Matchday 4 encounter in Aba had all the trappings of a revenge match. The atmosphere in the packed capacity stadium was charged, but Etoile’s Nigerian-born striker, Emeka Opara stunned the home team with a 3rd minute headed goal off corner kick. The hosts drew level after the break, Obinna Nwaneri- fresh from a brilliant international debut against Zimbabwe in a World cup qualifier- calmed frayed nerves around the stadium by firing past the largely tested Austin Ejide in goal for the Tunisians.
It ended 1-1, Etoile led the group and did avoid domestic rivals- Espérance Sportive de Tunis, leaving Enyimba to negotiate their way past the Blood and Gold in the semi-final. A challenge the Aba millionaires surmounted to set up an epic battle against Etoile for honours in the final.
Back tomorrow with the concluding part…
Nnanna Kalu is a staunch Enyimba fan and has been supporting the club for over 15 years now.