Enyimba walk tight rope as Raja win in Aba
Fans blame defeat on fatigue
Nigeria’s flagbearers in the CAF Confederation Cup, Enyimba of Aba now have a mountain to climb following their 0-1 home loss to Raja Casablanca of Morocco in the first leg of their semifinal tie yesterday.
The defeat at the newly refurbished Aba Stadium could have been avoided if the People’s Elephants had converted a penalty awarded them midway into the second half of the match.Enyimba, who defeated Rwandan side, Rayon Sports 5-1 on aggregate in the quarter-finals to progress to the last four, paid the big prize in the 48th minute, as Abdelilah Hafidi scored the only goal for Raja Casablanca, a low shot from distance that squirmed through the legs of goalkeeper Theophilus Afelokhai.
Raja, a traditional powerhouse in African football thus grabbed a vital away victory. The first half had ended goalless despite constant pressure from Enyimba, who failed to utilize the numerous chances that came their way.
What could have been a respite for the Nigerian side came in the 65th minute, when the Tunisian referee awarded a penalty to Enyimba after a Raja defender handled the ball in the 18-yard box. But Stanley Dimgba blew the chance when he blasted his penalty way off target. Their efforts to come back into the game were frustrated by the visitors, who held on to the 1-0 advantage.
The Moroccan side celebrated yesterday as if they had won the trophy. They travel back home with a victory and an away goal.To progress, Enyimba must go to Morocco on Wednesday, October 24, and win by two goals to progress on the away goals rule.
Meanwhile, some Nigerian sports analysts have blamed Enyimba’s home defeat to Raja on the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), which they accused of failing to protect ‘their own’. To the analysts, the NFF put Enyimba in danger by allowing them to play five matches within one week in the yet to be concluded Aiteo Cup. Before facing Raja yesterday in Aba, Enyimba played an Aiteo Cup game in Gombe on Friday and returned to Aba Sunday morning.
“Considering the huge hour they had to spend on the road, it was obvious in the match against Raja that Enyimba must have been fatigued,” one of the analysts said yesterday. “At least the NFF ought to have re-scheduled their game to a nearby venue. It is also curious that with all the noise of the NFF President being an insider in CAF, the body still picked a Tunisian referee to officiate a game between a Nigerian team and a Moroccan side.” Enyimba will be heading back to Gombe tomorrow for their Aiteo Cup quarterfinal match against Kano Pillars on Sunday.
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