It has been another disappointing year for Nigerian clubs in the continent, with only one team making it to the round-robin phase of either the CAF Champions League or the CAF Confederation Cup.
Enyimba are the last Nigerian club standing in the continent, following their narrow victory over fellow NPFL outfit, Rivers United in the final play-off round of the CAF Confederations Cup.
The People’s Elephant had dug out a 1-0 victory in the first leg of the tie in Aba, and after losing by a similar score line in the return leg in Port Harcourt, the two-time African champions held their nerve in the ensuing penalty shoot-out to move on to the next phase of the competition.
Enyimba had actually begun the season in the Champions League, beating Burkinabe side, Rahimo in the preliminary round of the continent’s top club competition, but they came unstuck in the next round, losing to Al Merreikh of Sudan 2-4 on aggregate.
That result meant that Enyimba dropped to the Confederation Cup.
Unfortunately for Nigeria, our two representatives, Enyimba and Rivers United were paired against each other to battle for the right to move into the group phase.
On a more positive note, that draw meant that there would definitely be a Nigerian club in the last 16.
And that Nigerian club turned out to be Enyimba following their penalty shoot-out victory over Rivers.
Can Enyimba move past the round-robin phase and reach the quarter-finals of the competition?
The Aba side has been handed a very tricky draw, with a couple of North African teams- ES Setif of Algeria and Al Ahli Benghazi of Libya- and South Africa’s Orlando Pirates set to battle Enyimba for the two quarter final tickets from Group A.
Algeria’s ES Setif appear to be the strongest side in the group.
Like Enyimba, they have won the Champions League on two previous occasions, the most recent of their triumph coming in 2014, while they were beaten finalists in the Confederation Cup in 2009, falling to Stade Malien on penalties.
More importantly, they currently sit on top of the Algerian top flight despite having games in hand over their other title rivals.
They are not only favourites to win Group A, they are also one of the more fancied sides in the entire competition, along with the likes of Etoile du Sahel and Raja Casablanca.
Many Nigerian betting sites now have Champions League and Confederation Cup betting, so you may want to place an early wager on any of these sides.
The other North African team in Enyimba’s group, Al Ahli Benghazi do not have as big a pedigree as ES Setif.
The club’s best ever continental showing was in 2014, when they made the quarter finals of the CAF Champions League.
Al Ahli Benghazi have won the Libyan Premier League on four previous occasions, with their most recent success coming way back in 1992.
They made it into the group phase of this year’s Confederation Cup after edging out Congolese side, Motema Pembe on penalties.
The other team in Group A, Orlando Pirates, were African champions in 1995, and runners-up in 2013. The South Africans also reached the final of the Confederation Cup in 2015, losing to Tunisia’s Etoile du Sahel.
Pirates cruised into the group phase of the Confederation Cup, easing past Botswana’s Galaxy 4-0 in the final play-off round.
They have had a decent campaign in South Africa’s Premiership, winning seven and drawing eight of their first 18 matches to stay right in the mix for one of next season’s continental spots.
Pirates will fancy their chances of getting out of their Confederation Cup group.
But so will Enyimba, ES Setif and Al Ahli Benghazi.
On paper, Setif are the most accomplished side and should move into the quarter finals, while Enyimba and Pirates look set to battle for the other spot from the group.
Al Ahli will be dangerous, especially on their home patch.
The key for Enyimba is to take care of business at home. If they pick up at least seven point in Aba, which admittedly, is easier said than done, and sneak a point away from home, that may be good enough to get them over the line.
The group phase of the CAF Confederation Cup starts on Wednesday, 10 March, with Enyimba hosting Al Ahli Benghazi and ES Setif welcoming Pirates to Algeria.