Nigeria’s sole flag bearer in the group stages of the CAF champions league, Enyimba FC will begin their quest for continental glory on Sunday as they square off against Zamalek FC of Egypt at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium in Port Harcourt.
The two-time champions qualified for the group stage this time around by beating Tunisian heavyweights, Etoile du Sahel after getting knocked out in the first round last season, and will be hoping to get to the semi-finals. They have been drawn in group B with E.S Setifienne of Algeria, Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa as well as Zamalek. However, it won’t be an easy ride as Zamalek would be hoping to draw first blood in Port-Harcourt.
ZAMALEK ARE FAVOURITES
The White Knights, as the Egyptian club is popularly known are favourites going into this tie. They qualified for the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup last season, and if domestic form is anything to go by, they have the edge over their Nigerian counterparts. Enyimba will also be playing in Port-Harcourt, which isn’t their traditional home. This is a factor that may play into Mohamed Helmy’s side.
Enyimba will take advantage of a number of factors though. The gates are to be opened for everyone in the garden city in order to garner maximum support. In addition, Zamalek last got to the group stages in 2014. They also last won the tournament in 2002, while Enyimba won it twice in a row after that. The bottom line is that the two teams have not won it in a long while, and Sunday will be about who wants it more.
Zamalek have had issues with coaches too. Mohamed Helmy is the fourth coach in a turbulent season that has included the likes of Alex McLeish, who once managed Birmingham and Aston Villa football clubs. Taking advantage of the managerial instability should be uppermost in the mind of Paul Aigbogun, the coach of Enyimba FC.
WINNING START CRUCIAL
The CAF Champions league is an unforgiving competition. Home form is crucial in going far, and the People’s Elephants would have to beat Zamalek in Port Harcourt in order to fan any hope of qualifying for the last four. The other group B game between E.S Setifienne and Sundowns will take place on Saturday in Algeria. As such, Enyimba will possibly be kicking off with the added pressure of getting a good result depending on the result from the other game.
Can a Nigerian team win Africa’s premier club competition once again? A good result on Sunday will be a good place to start.