Just as it was against Ismaili in Egypt in the preceding year, there was no warmth for the Nigerians from the home fans at the packed Olympic stadium in the eastern coastal town of Sousse, nor from the chilly weather conditions.
However there was no better way for the Peoples’ Elephant to silence the Tunisians than by taking the lead, a crucial away goal. But the 33rd minute sending off Enyimba’s midfield fulcrum- Onyekachi Okonkwo for what seemed like an innocuous challenge gave Etoile the numerical strength to take control of the midfield which in turn translated to goals- an equaliser via a penalty at the stroke of half time and a winner in the second half.
A somewhat controversial 2-1 win in Sousse did set the tone for an explosive final in Abuja, far away from the traditional home of Enyimba in Aba. As the encounter edged closer the final whistle with the home side leading 2-1 for a 3-3 aggregate score, Enyimba Coach Okey Emordi once again took the bold step of substituting first-choice goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama with “penalty specialist” Dele Aiyenugba in anticipation of another shoot-out, a tactic that had proven both inspired and decisive against another Tunisian side, Esperance in the semi-final.
The air was thick with fear and apprehension, but Aiyenugba saved the day and proved that his heroic performance against Esperance in the previous round was no fluke. With Enyimba leading 2-1 in the shoot-out, Dele pulled off a spectacular save to deny Sabuer Frej. Enyimba penalty takers- Jerome Ezeoba, Musa Aliyu, Joetex Frimpong, Damian Udeh and Captain Obinna Nwaneri- all kept their nerves to clinically dispatch from the spot and make history as the first side to successfully defend the CAF champions league title since 1968. An exclusive group that had since welcomed Al Ahly of Egypt (2005 and 2006; 2012 and 2013) and TP Mazembe of DR Congo (2009 and 2010).
This term, Etoile du Sahel will be fired up to add to their solitary CAF Champions League crown won in 2007, after previously finishing second best in 2004 and 2005. The momentum seems to be in favour of the Sousse based side, chiefly on the evidence of their domestic form and as holders of the CAF Confederation Cup. But interestingly, Football shows no respect for form or history. It swings in favour of those who prepare and desire it more on the day.
The Enyimba class of 2016 are aware of the enormity of the task that await them and how a good and long run in the Continent would deepen their names in the heart of Enyimba’s huge fanbase and further enrich the club’s proud history. Since Enyimba’s continental glory in 2003 and 2004 seasons, their best showings remain Semi-final places in 2008 and 2011 seasons.
The survivors of the class of 2011 are Current Captain Chinedu Udoji and his central defence partner- Emmanuel Anyanwu. Continental experience could also be drawn from Goalkeeper Theophilus Joel Afelokhai and Ikechukwu Ibenegbu who played key roles in Kano Pillars and Heartland’s spirited runs to the semi-final and final respectively in the 2009 CAF Champions League.
These experienced heads would be complemented by the energy and hunger of the entirety of the team, defenders- Uche John, Ifeanyi Anaemena, Chima Akas and Ugwu Uwadiegwu; midfielders Dare Ojo, Razak Aliyu, Nzube Anaezemba etc; and attackers- Joseph Osadiaye, Ezekiel Bassey, Mfon Udoh, Abu Azeez, Stephen Chukwude, Ugochukwu Leonard etc.
The Paul Aigbogun led coaching crew would need to device a perfect tactical plan and micro manage every detail of the plan on match day. The Club Management led by the experienced Chairman Felix Anyansi Agwu should take proactive steps in Logistics management and players’ welfare. This is the time to show Africa that “Aba nwere weight”.
Head-to-Head: Enyimba Fc vs Etoile du Sahel –
Games Played 5; Wins- 2 apiece; draw 1.
Trophies on offer- 2:
2004 African Super Cup and 2004 CAF Champions Leagues:
Enyimba International 2- 0 Etoile Du Sahel
Nzogbu Nzogbu Enyimba Enyi!!!
– Nnanna Kalu, staunch Enyimba fan of over 15 years, concludes a post he started yesterday on the blog.