2015 CAF Champions League was done in Cairo
on Tuesday, and for the fourth consecutive year, there will be no Nigerian club at
this stage of the competition. The two Nigerian representatives, Kano Pillars
and Enyimba crashed out to North African opponents respectively. Nigerian
Premier League champions, Kano Pillars lost to Moghreb Tetouan of Morocco 5-2 on
aggregate. They were effectively out of the tie in the first leg in Morocco when
they lost 4-0.
Enyimba fare better on the goal aggregate front, though that
counted for nothing as they lost to two late goals to Egyptian club side, Smouha
2-1 in the second leg in Egypt. What was disappointing about the People’s Elephant elimination was that
they could have put the tie to bed in the first leg in Aba if Mfon Udoh and his compatriots had be more clinical in front of goal.
than that. That the conquerors of Kano Pillars and Enyimba eventually made the
group stages, goes to show that they are not pushovers in their own
right. Incidentally, both Moghreb Tetouan and Smouha are in group A of the
What is interesting about this
year’s Champions League is that for the first time, there will be three clubs
from one country (Algeria) in the group stages, and all have been grouped together in the
same group. The Algerian clubs includes defending champions, ES Setif, USM
Alger and MC Eluma. Sudan
boast of two clubs in EL Merreikh and El Hilal coupled with perrenial
campaigners from DR Congo, TP Mazembe. Whereas, no Nigerian club made the group
When Obinna Nwaneri lifted the
Champions League trophy at the Abuja National Stadium following Enyimba’s
penalty shoot out win over Tunisian side Etiole dul Sahel in 2004, few would
have thought that there will be a time when Nigerian clubs would go more than three years without making
the group stages of the competition.
Enyimba have the best record of any Nigeria club
that has participated in the Champions League since the present format was introduced
in 1997. Besides, the two triumphs in 2003 and 2004, the Aba giants made the Semi finals in 2008 and
2011. But they have not fared any better since that time.
for grim reading, since Kano Pillars first made the Champions League in 2009
when they got as far as the Semi Finals, they have not gone beyond the first
and second qualifying rounds. They have now been eliminated at the knock out stages in 2011, 2013,
2014 and 2015. Despite a strong domestic showing which has seen them crowned
Nigerian Champions in the last three years, they have failed to replicate the
same performance on the continent.
It took Enyimba just a year after
they lost in the knock out stages to Asec Minosas of the Ivory Coast in the 2002 Champions League when they played their home matches in Calabar for them to learn the
ropes of what was required to put up a solid performance in the competition. it
was no surprise that they won the title the following year, 2003.
With Kano Pillars
dominance in the domestic scene, and consecutive elimination in the knock out stages of the Champions League in consecutive years, it was expected that they would have become
seasoned campaigners on the continent by now, but all to no avail.
FC of Owerri have come closest to winning the Champions League, when they lost
narrowly to TP Mazembe of DR Congo in the finals on away goals in 2009 by a 2-2 scoreline (winning the first leg in Owerri 2-1 and they lost in Lubumbashi 0-1) The
following year, 2010 they only got as far as the group stages.
of the continental scene, Nigerian clubs would have to reinvent themselves to
make headway in the Champions League in the coming years.
Only TP Mazembe (2009 and 2010),
Enyimba (2003 and 2004) and Accra Hearts of Oaks (2000) are the only sub-Sahara
clubs to have won the competition since the group stage format was introduced
in 1997. The only time a North Africa club
has not been involved in the finals in the last 18 years was when Heartland of
Owerri played TP Mazembe of DR Congo in the 2009 finals.
When Enyimba had consecutive
continental success more than a decade ago, it was not just about the funds
made available by their financier, Orji Uzo Kalu, but the application of the
players that brought about the victory. A team comprising the likes of Vincent
Enyeama, Obinna Nwaneri, Ajibade Omolade, Ugah Okpara, Seyi Ogunsanya, Yusuf
Mohammed, Abubakar Musa, Muri Ogunbiyi, Ekene Ezenwa, Onyekachi Okonkwo and
Micheal Ochei showed grit, dedication and determination to overcome Ismaily in
Egypt despite the intimidation and antics of the host in 2003. That Enyimba
retained the trophy the following year showed the mental strength of that group
League could be said to be better than what it was a decade ago especially with
better pitches around the country, but whether the same can be said of the
quality of players is another thing. Although many would beg to differ on this particularly on the quality of players.
It must be noted that Nigerian clubs
strong showing in CAF club competitions a decade ago was not restricted to
Enyimba, Dolphins of Port Harcourt got to the finals of the Confederations Cup
in 2005, where they lost to AFC Rabat of Morocco. Meaning Nigerian clubs played
three consecutive continental finals in 2003, 2004 and 2005
glory days of a decade ago remains to be seen, but first thing first, they
have to make the group stages of the Champions League something that has not
happened in four years.