Thank Heavens the final of the CAF Confederation club will be played at the Nest of Champions, Uyo. It affords Enyimba opportunity to stage a peaceful protest over disqualification by the continental body.
Enyimba walked into uncommon circumstances in the second round of the Confederation Cup against Al Ittihad of Libya.
The first leg was to be played in Benghazi on November 28, 2021 but because of the crisis in the North African country, it was moved to Monastir, Tunisia.
Enyimba, according to club chairman, Felix Anyansi remained in the dark even after mails to Al Ittihad and CAF, asking for match venue in the likely event of a shift. Libyan visas were thereafter procured by officials of the Aba club.
CAF later decided that the game would be played in Tunisia. Enyimba embarked on the journey, transiting at the Mohammed V Airport, Casablanca. Strict COVID-19 procedure made it impossible for Tunisian authorities to allow them in from Morocco.
Back home, the People’s Elephant flew. CAF rescheduled the first leg but it was resolved that that the second leg be played in Aba before the first leg. A very strange decision. Enyimba had no choice.
Al Ittihad came to the Enyimba International Stadium and were beaten 2-0 on December 5, 2021. Sadiq Abubakar scored in the 21st minute, Victor Mbaoma increased the tally in the 34th.
Then CAF gave a December 17-19 date for the first leg. The Nigerians appealed for outright cancellation or a neutral venue outside Libya. CAF refused. Enyimba asked Al Ittihad to move the match forward to December 31, since it would be difficult to get the necessary documents in 48 hours. The Libyans said no.
Enyimba did not make the trip to Benghazi. Al Ittihad were just so happy to meet their absence at the Benina Martyrs Stadium, on December 19. CAF awarded the match to the hosts through Walk Over.
That was how Enyimba, CAF Champions League winners in 2003 and 2004 respectively, African Super Cup champions in 2003 and 2004 got knocked out from the 2021/2022 CAF Confederation Cup.
This is the height of injustice. Quite unfortunately, Enyimba were abandoned by even those that should fight their just cause. I did not hear a word from the Abia State government. No strong words came from the NFA.
There are so many Nigerians who know CAF inside out. Some belong to CAF committees. I feel bad that all of them orphaned Enyimba.
Manager George Finidi is also dejected. He joined the team at the beginning of the season and earned a brilliant debut result in Thies, Senegal against Diambar. Cyril Olisema’s 84th minute penalty settled scores at 1-0.
In the second leg, the homeboys went goal crazy. Tosin Omoyele began the rush in the very first minute. Mbaoma made it two and just as the referee was about to end proceedings, Samuel Kalu banged a last minute goal. It ended 3-0.
With this zeal, Finidi and Enyimba were fired up. They waited for intervention. None came. Al Ittihad qualified for the Group Stage. They did not make it to Uyo because rivals, Ahly Tripoli kicked them out.
Some fans may not remember that Ahly Tripoli were knocked out by Enugu Rangers on away goal rules in the 1977 African Winners Cup. Christian Chukwu made sure Rangers qualified, with his goal. The Flying Antelopes advanced to win the trophy.
I do not forget History. CAF should be reminded that these same teams, Enyimba and Ahly Benghazi, found themselves in similar situation in the 2011 Champions League.
The fire burning Libya had been ignited following trouble with Muammar Gaddafi. CAF decided to make their meeting a one- leg affair. The match was played in Nigeria. On May 8, 2011, Enyimba defeated Al Ittihad 1-0.
Nigeria’s Izu Azuka played for the Libyans.
CAF has been unfair to Nigerian teams. We remember what happened to Stationery Stores in 1968, the first time the country took part in the African Cup for Champion Clubs.
Stores beat Mysterious Ebusua Dwarfs of Cape Coast, Ghana 3-2 in Lagos. The second leg at away ended 1-0 against the Adebajo Babes. At the time, there was no away goal rule.
CAF adopted toss of the coin as decider. Stores were luckier and qualified for the quarter finals.
FAR of Morocco were quarter finalists too. They got a 1-0 victory in Rabat. Super Stores beat them 2-1 in Lagos. Both teams moved to Dakar, Senegal to replay. It ended 2-2. CAF used toss of the coin again. Stores lost.
In 1970, Stores came again. In the second round, their foes, Asante Kotoko were led by a Nigerian, Ibrahim Sunday.
The Flaming Flamingos were 3-2 better in Lagos. The Porcupines won 1-0 in Kumasi. CAF did not apply the toss of the coin rule like they did in 1968 when the Lagosians played in Cape Coast.
Stores were asked to go for replay. The Adebajo Babes refused. CAF disqualified them. Kotoko progressed to win the cup.
Inconsistencies ruled CAF. In the same 1970, Kotoko and Young Africans, Tanzania were even at the end of the two legs of the quarter finals. For the first time, extra time was introduced. The Ghanaians won.
In 1971, there was yet another stalemate. There was no difference between Kotoko and Merreikh of Sudan after two legs. CAF introduced penalty kicks. Kotoko moved on, 5-4 penalties.
Nigerian football administrators should wake up. That the country could not win the CAF Champions League until 2003, through Enyimba was because our officials were in deep sleep.
Rangers would have lifted the trophy in 1975 but the NFA insisted that there was a CAF clause that the final must be played at a venue not more than 150 kilometres from the Nations capital.
Rangers played Hafia, Guinea in Lagos, far away from Enugu and lost the cup.
In 1988, Setif, Algeria took Iwuanyanwu Nationale to Constantine, over 700 kilometres from Algiers and battered them 4-0 to cancel a first leg, Adamasingba, Ibadan advantage and win the cup.
On the way to Algeria, Ambassador Pius Ayewo was livid that the NFA sent Iwuanyanwu to hot Cairo, Egypt to warm up for a match billed for very freezing Constantine.
It took Chief Sebastine Williams, a Nigerian business man to buy the players synthetic boots in London and send to Algeria. They did not know that their tropical boots would be useless in a cold region.
In 1967, Kotoko played in the finals against TP Englebert ( Mazembe) in Kumasi, not Accra, the Ghanaian capital. They did the same against the Congolese in 1971 and AS Vita in 1973.
Mehalla of Egypt lost the 1974 final to CARA, Congo in Mehalla, not Cairo, the Egyptian capital.
Enyimba must not keep quiet. Let this opportunity not slip. They should hire 50 buses, pay their fans’ way to Uyo, watch the Confederations Cup final peacefully and display banners with, ‘CAF, YOU WERE NOT FAIR TO ENYIMBA’ boldly written.