Two-time champions, Enyimba International will on Sunday look to get their Caf Champions’ League group stage campaign off to a flyer when they face Egyptian club, Zamalek in the opening game of Group B.
Enyimba reached this stage of the competition by the skin of their teeth after going through the harrowing experience of penalty kicks against Tunisian side, Etiole du Sahel, which literally went right down to the wire.
The hero for Enyimba on that fateful night (April 20) at Stade Olympique de Sousse in their second leg, second round game was goalkeeper, Theophilus Joel Afelokhai who vividly recounts the incidents on the day.
“After the first leg in Port Harcourt, most of teammates felt we had already qualified for the group stages but I told them we could not afford to start celebrating just yet.
“I said that because I had played against North African teams in North Africa with my former club (Kano Pillars) in the past and knew what they were capable of.
“I told them to be prepared for the battle ahead of the second leg in Sousse,” Afelokhai recalled.
The former Sai Masu Gida man was right. Etiole were in the mood for that second leg and promptly cancelled out Enyimba’s 3-0 first leg advantage inside the opening 72 minutes.
A well-taken Hamza Lahma free kick two minutes before the break and Diogo da Silva Farais’ brace in 11 frenzied second half minutes left the People’s Elephant shell shocked.
So it was down to the lottery of penalties and the Aba club was the first to blink under the pressure cooker environment of the rocking Stade Olympique de Sousse.
Enyimba’s first two spot kicks were saved by the Etiole goal keeper, Aymen Mathlouthi and heads predictably dropped in the visiting dug out.
Afelokhai then recounts his heroics that turned things around with the Tunisians poised to take their final spot kick to win the tie.
“I had a feeling even before the game commenced that it would be tough but that we would progress.
“I looked at my bench after we missed our first two spot kicks and Etiole had scored theirs.
“There was a feeling of hopelessness on our bench but I only smiled to myself.
“I was looking for a miracle because I knew God would do something,” he said.
Afelokhai went on to stop three of the Tunisians’ spot kicks and the rest, as they say, is history.
The White knight awaits
The stakes are even higher now with Enyimba through to the group stages and their first test comes in the shape of a potential thriller against 12-time Egyptian champions, Zamalek.
Zamalek have won three of the four games they have played so far in the competition and have yet to taste defeat.
The Egyptians beat Camerounian club, Union Douala home and away (3-0 on aggregate) in the first round before dispatching Algerian side, MO Béjaïa 3-1 on aggregate in the second round.
Domestically, Zamalek have been irrepressible to say the least.
They have won their last eight games in the Egyptian Premier League but trail the leaders, Al Ahly by five points with three matches remaining. In other words, Enyimba will be meeting a very formidable side on Sunday.
The last time Zamalek lost a competitive football match was on April 4 when they suffered a 0-1 reverse to Ismaily in the Premier League at Petrosport stadium.
Players to watch
Mohammed Helmy, the Zamalek coach, has several trusted personnel to rely on in the test against Enyimba.
Ahmed Dewidah, Mostafa Fathi and Burkinabe defender, Mohammed Koffi are absolute rocks in defence while Mahmoud ‘Kahrahba’ Monem is the heart and soul of the Zamalek midfield, basically every attacking moves the Egyptians make revolve around that man.
Ahmed Tawfik and 25-year-old forward, Ahmed Hamoudi will always guarantee goals and the Enyimba backline must be alert from start to finish to prevent the smooth-playing Maghrebs from causing damage.
Zamalek also have a Nigerian in their ranks-23-year-old midfielder, Maarouf Yousef who will be sure to provide ‘inside information’ about the club of the country of his birth.
Yousef has spent pretty much all of his professional football life in Egypt. He played for Itthad El Shorta between 2010 and 2014 before making the switch to Zamalek.
Fasting, fatigue and weather conditions
Enyimba may yet enjoy a massive advantage as basically the entire Zamalek team will be observing the Ramadan fast.
Coach Helmy told the club’s official website, www.el-zamalek.com that he would not compel his players to break their fast for the game on Sunday.
He also spoke about the hot and humid conditions in Port Harcourt which he claims will detrimentally affect his players.
A high octane approach could favour Enyimba in this context.
The coach has however revealed that he now knows the strengths and weaknesses of Enyimba as he has been watching videos of the seven-time Nigerian champions.
Enyimba chairman, Felix Anyansi-Agwu is full of respect for the Egyptian club but insists Enyimba will win on Sunday.
“We have never faced Zamalek before but we are ready for this game. This is not our first time in this competition and we are quite prepared.
“The good news is that there are no injury worries for us so that is a big advantage for us. We will win, I am sure,” he said.
Sunday’s encounter at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium should be full of intrigues, excitement and drama.
Nobody does it quite like Sammy Wejinya. Thank you namesake, for this fully packaged, delicious match preview.