First 11: Ighalo’s AFCON Absence And This Week’s Biggest Sports Stories

 

From Romelu Lukaku’s row with Thomas Tuchel; Odion Ighalo’s AFCON absence to Watford’s eventual release of Senegal’s Ismaila Sarr for the competition, sports fans had a lot to chew on in the first week of the year.

On First Eleven this week, we capture the stories that made headlines to help sports lovers make sense of an eventful seven days.

AFCON Is Here!

AFCON trophy.

 

Finally, the 2021 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) is here! The competition, which was postponed last year, will begin in Cameroon on Sunday.

Several clubs in Europe had criticised the timing of the competition as well as raised concerns over the rising rate of COVID-19 infections across the world, a development that triggered fears that the tournament may not hold.

But in his visit to the Central African country late last year, CAF President Patrice Motsepe, who met with Cameroonian authorities, said the biennial football showpiece will go ahead as planned.

To make this happen, a string of measures including a mandatory COVID-19 test for fans, and a limited crowd at the stadia, were introduced. Earlier in the week, Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had contracted the disease and is a doubt for Gabon’s opening game against Comoros on Monday.

Aside from concerns about the timing, security issues also appeared as a major stumbling block to Cameroon’s hosting of the AFCON. Fears of attacks from separatists have led to the tightening of measures in the nation.

Eagles Land Without Ighalo

Nigeria won the AFCON in 2013. Photo: Instagram/Super Eagles.

 

On Wednesday night, the Super Eagles arrived in Cameroon for the AFCON tournament but were without forward, Odion Ighalo. A post on the team’s social media handles showed the players disembarking from the plane.

Ighalo’s absence followed his club, Al-Shabab’s refusal to release him for the competition, further compounding the woes of a country already missing star man, Victor Osimhen.

Coach Austin Eguaveon, has, however, said there is no replacement for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) top scorer. Nigeria are in Group D alongside record winners, Egypt, Sudan, and Guinea Bissau.

Watford Bow

File photo: Watford’s Senegalese star Ismaila Sarr (C) celebrates after he scores the team’s first goal against Liverpool. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

 

The row over the release of players for the continental event did not only affect Nigeria. Watford – the club which barred Super Eagles’ Emmanuel Dennis from the competition – finally bowed to pressure from the Senegalese football authorities and released Ismaila Sarr to join his compatriots.

Sarr had been a doubt for the team with the Senegalese Football Federation (FSF) claiming the Premier League side blocked the release of the 23-year-old. The federation in describing the claim said it was a “disrespectful, pernicious and discriminatory behaviour” from Watford. The club though dismissed the accusation.

Djokovic’s Ordeal Lingers On

Novak Djokovic was denied aces to participate in the Australian Open despite ab exemption from two panels of medical experts
In this file photo taken on October 22, 2020, Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic attends an open-air press conference in Belgrade. (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP).

 

COVID-19 is also raising more debates in the tennis world and Novak Djokovic continues to make headlines.

The Serb has repeatedly refused to confirm if he has taken the shots. He, however, got a medical exemption to participate in the Australian Open. Hours after the move, the Australian authorities denied him a visa to the country.

As expected, the development sparked outcry globally but the conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison maintained that “rules are rules and there are no special cases”. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic waded into drama, describing it as a “political witch hunt”.

Osaka Expect Fun-Filled Return

In this file photo, Japan’s Naomi Osaka reacts after a point against France’s Alize Cornet during their women’s singles match at the Melbourne Summer Set tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 4, 2022. William WEST / AFP

 

Also in tennis, Naomi Osaka is expecting fun on the court following her return from a four-month break! The four-time Grand Slam winner tearfully exited at the US Open in September.

The Japanese fell to 13 in the rankings and had said after her third-round defeat at Flushing Meadows that she was “dealing with some stuff” and was taking a break from the game!

She flew into Melbourne last week to prepare for her Australian Open defence.

Guardiola Gets COVID-19

File photo: Manchester City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola looks on from the touchline during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Norwich City at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on August 21, 2021. Adrian DENNIS / AFP

 

In England, COVID-19 cases have also continued to soar among Premier League teams. Manchester City coach, Pep Guardiola and his Burnley counterpart, Sean Dyche, tested positive for the disease.

The duo is now in isolation and Guardiola will miss the team’s FA Cup trip to Swindon Town. Before then, the Carabao Cup tie between Arsenal and Liverpool was also moved due to the increasing number of cases in England. But other FA Cup games are expected to continue.

Messi Tests Positive

This file photo taken on December 7, 2021, shows Paris Saint-Germain’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi at the Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris on December 7, 2021. FRANCK FIFE / AFP

 

Apart from Guardiola, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG)’s, Lionel Messi also tested positive to COVID-19. The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner was one of four PSG players to contract the virus, according to the club.

“He is constantly in contact with our medical service. When he is negative, he will be able to return to France,” PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino told a press conference.

Lukaku Backtracks

Chelsea’s Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku controls the ball during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Brighton and Hove Albion at Stamford Bridge in London on December 29, 2021. Glyn KIRK / AFP

 

Still in England. Following the controversy generated by an interview with Sky Italia, Romelu Lukaku apologised to manager, Thomas Tuchel.

The Belgian star was in the news after he claimed he was unhappy at the Stamford Bridge side, claiming Tuchel had been playing him out of position for the Blues.

He was axed for the game against Liverpool and days after the encounter, the former Inter Milan forward, said he was “sorry” over his comments.

“To the fans, I’m sorry for the upset that I’ve caused,” Lukaku told Chelsea’s website. “Obviously, it’s up to me now to restore your trust, and I’ll do my best every day to show commitment on the training ground and in games to make sure we win games.

“And also to the manager, my teammates, and the board, I apologise, because I think it was not the right moment, also.”

All Clear for Plumptre

Ashleigh Plumptre
Ashleigh Plumptre has been given a go-ahead by FIFA to represent Nigeria.

 

Back home, footballer Ashleigh Plumptre, formally switched her nationality to Nigeria after FIFA cleared her to play for the African nation.

The Leicester defender had indicated interest to represent the Super Falcons and last year played an unofficial game for the Nigerian side.

Spokesman of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Ademola Olajire, confirmed the development, saying the former England youth international fast-tracked the move.

“It was only possible because of her commitment and dedication. She made the federation’s work a lot easier by providing all the requirements in quick time,” Olajire told the BBC.

Finidi’s Honeymoon Over

 

George Finidi is a former international. Credit: Facebook/Enyimba FC

 

On the local scene, George Finidi’s Enyimba lost their second league game in a row on Sunday. The People’s Elephant fell 2-0 to Kano Pillars in a Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) matchday 4 encounter.

The team earlier on suffered a 1-0 defeat against Rivers United, the first loss for the Aba-based side since Finidi’s appointment. Enyimba had enjoyed a five-game unbeaten run before then. Matches continue this weekend in the league.

Mendy Granted Bail

In this file photo, France’s defender Benjamin Mendy arrives in Clairefontaine-en-Yvelines on November 12, 2018, as part of the team’s preparation for the upcoming Nations League football match against the Netherlands and a friendly football match against Uruguay. FRANCK FIFE / AFP

 

Away from Nigeria, Manchester City defender, Benjamin Mendy, was granted bail after four months in prison.

Mendy was granted bail by Judge Patrick Thompson at a private hearing at Chester Crown Court at a private hearing in a Chester Crown Court. But pressmen were barred from the hearing. He has been bailed until January 24 pending a further pre-trial hearing.

The Frenchman is facing a seven counts charge of rape and sexual assault and was held at the HMP Altcourse, Liverpool, from where he was transferred to HMP Manchester.

He was billed to go on trial this month but that has now been moved to June at the earliest.

NPFL 22: Enyimba Lose Again As Remo Stars Maintain Lead

Remo Stars have had a good start to the new season. Photo: Remo Stars

 

Kano Pillars defeated Enyimba 2-0 in a Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) game on Sunday, the second consecutive loss for the Peoples Elephants in the league.

Enyimba had lost by a lone goal to Rivers United in matchday 3 of the NPFL, after a sterling start to the new season that saw them winning their first two games.

Captain Rabiu Ali gave the Kano-based side the lead just before halftime after he converted a penalty.

In the 56th minute, Kokoette Udoh doubled the scoreline for the Sai Masu Gida. The defeat leaves Enyimba on ninth on the table with six points after four games.

On the other hand, Kano Pillars are now 13th having lost two games, drawn one, and won one.

READ ALSOUnsettled Chelsea Star Lukaku Dropped For Liverpool Clash – Reports

Another game on Sunday saw Remo Stars maintain their grip on the table despite a 1-1 draw against Dakkada FC in Uyo. The newcomers are on eight points after four games but Kwara United will leapfrog them if they beat Abia Warriors.

A Samuel Anakwe goal cancelled Dakkada’s early lead from Muritala Lawal to keep the Blue Stars at the zenith.

Nasarawa United also beat defending champions, Akwa United 2-0 in Lafia.

Elsewhere, Rangers International defeated Niger Tornadoes 4-0 in Nnewi thanks to a brace from Kenechukwu Agu, and a goal each from Aseigbu Shedrack, and Nnaji Christian.

This was as Plateau United returned to winning ways when they dispatch Heartland 3-0.

Meanwhile, MFM’s poor run continued following a 3-0 defeat to Wikki Tourists in Bauchi. The Olukoya Boys have only three points from four games and are 17th on the table.

And in Port Harcourt, Rivers United could not replicate the form that saw them beat Enyimba on matchday 3. They managed a goalless draw against Sunshine Stars at the Port Harcourt Stadium.

NPFL Fixtures

Three games will be played on Monday and they are as follow:

Abia Warriors Vs Kwara United
Gombe Vs Lobi Stars
Shooting Stars Vs Katsina

NPFL 22: Enyimba, Remo Stars Maintain Fine Form

Remo Stars starting line-up against Heartland FC

 

Enyimba Football Club of Aba and newly promoted Remo Stars have recorded wins on matchday 2 to continue their fine start to the new 2021/2022 Nigeria Professional Football League season.

Remo Stars produced arguably the major talking point from the opening day with a stunning 2-0 win over MFM FC at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena in Lagos while Enyimba got their season to a flying start with a 2-1 victory over Abia Warriors in Aba.

In Enugu, the Peoples Elephant showed they mean business with this campaign as they laboured to a 0-1 win over rivals Rangers International Football Club. The Flying Antelopes also had a good opening day win, beating Katsina United 2-1 to open their campaign with an away win. They had hoped to consolidate on that performance against Enyimba but their plans didn’t materialize.

Whenever the Antelopes and Elephants clash, it’s always a tight encounter and Sunday wasn’t different. It was looking like it will end in a barren draw till the 77th minute when coach Finidi George sent in Emeka Obioma to replace Victor Mbaoma. That substitution made the difference.

In the 88th minute, Obioma proved to be a super-sub as he scored the only goal of the match to seal victory for the visitors. Perfect start to the season for the People’s Elephant who are enjoying a good time under new manager Finidi George.

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Remo’s Christmas Package

Remo Stars also made it two wins out of two matches with an impressive 3-0 win over Heartland FC of Owerri. Andy Okpe scored a brace to improve his goals tally to 3 in two matches. It was a beautiful Christmas package for Coach Gbenga Ogunbote and the fans who are so loving the Sky Blue Stars.

Beaming with confidence from Matchday One, the home team showed their intent early in the match. Three minutes into the game, Okpe opened the scoring with a lovely left-foot finish. A minute later, Okpe doubled the lead with a beautiful header. Heartland couldn’t explain what hit them. It was a rush!

The visitors had their moments and tried to get back into the contest but Remo defended the lead so well. In the 72nd minute, Samuel Anakwe sealed a fine performance for the hosts when he scored with a half volley. The win placed Remo Stars on top of the league table with 5 goals from two matches and 6 points.

Rivers United also had a good Christmas package beating Katsina United 3-0. The Pride of Rivers got close to winning on Matchday One but were held to a 1-1 draw at Lobi Stars. On Sunday, they were in control from the beginning till the end of the match.

Rafiu Ishaq scored a brace with Chijioke Akuneto registering one to give the host a comfortable victory. Rivers United are 4th on the log with 4 points.

Boxing Day Love

The number of draws recorded on Sunday in the league confirms that teams were in the boxing day mood.

League champions, Akwa United were held to a 1-1 by the newly-promoted Shooting Stars of Ibadan. Utibe Archibong scored first for the hosts but a late goal Ayo Adejubu spoiled the party for the host as the spoils were shared. An Ibibio man scored for the South West team, while a Yoruba man scored for the South-South team. That’s the power of football!

In Kaduna, Kano Pillars and Lobi Stars played a goalless draw while Nasarawa United and Gombe United played 1-1. This is the second draw result for both teams. Abubakar Abdullahi scored for the Solid Miners in the 48th minute and it stayed that way till the closing minutes of the match when Yusuff Abdulazeez scored the equaliser and spoiled the Christmas party for the hosts.

In another Matchday 2 games played, Dakkada FC bounced back from their opening day defeat to Kwara United to beat MFM FC 2-0. Aniekan Ekpe and Musa Bashiru scored the goals while Mohammed Zulkifilu’s goal gave Plateau United a 1-0 win over Kwara United.

Abia Warriors also recorded their first win of the season with a 1-0 win over Sunshine Stars of Akure while Wikki Tourists got their campaign going with a 1-0 win over newly-promoted Niger Tornadoes.

Confederation Cup: Enyimba Write CAF, Want Rescheduling Of Al Ittihad Game

Enyimba are two-time African champions. Credit: Enyimba FC

 

Enyimba have written to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) over the first leg of their Confederation Cup tie with Al Ittihad and want the fixture moved. 

CAF had earlier scheduled the game for this weekend but Enyimba said they got the information late.

“In the spirit of sportsmanship and for the integrity of the competition, the club has elected to accept the decision,” the club said in a statement on Friday.

“However, considering the brevity of time to the fixture, coupled with the current travelling challenges across the continent, it is absolutely impossible for us to arrange a trip to Libya within 48 hours.

“Consequently, we have written to CAF requesting a rescheduling of the date of the fixture to December 31 to enable us sort out our visas, flight bookings, hotel reservations, and other logistics.”

READ ALSO: [CAFCC] Enyimba Defeat Al-Ittihad As Kalu Promises N1m Reward To Team

The club said they have also written to the Libyan team, based on CAF’s counsel, to inform them about their request and hope “to get their cooperation in reaching an agreement for the new date for the fixture.”

Friday’s statement from Enyimba has further added to the controversies that have greeted the team’s game with Al-Ittihad.

Two weeks ago, The Peoples Elephants had beaten their foes in the second leg of the match. The win in Aba was a sequel to the postponement of the first leg of the game following controversies over COVID-19 protocols. Enyimba were barred from entering Tunisia, Al-Ittihad’s adopted home ground.

Rivers United Crash Out Of CAF Confederation Cup 

Rivers United needed at least a draw to advance to the next stage of the competition. Photo: Rivers United.

 

Rivers United have bowed out of the CAF Confederations Cup following a 0-1 away loss to Al Masry on Sunday. 

The Port Harcourt-based side came into the encounter on the heels of a 2-1 win in the first leg of the encounter and needed at least a draw to advance to the next stage of the competition.

But Abdel Latif Grendo’s 12th-minute strike sent the Port Said team to the group stage of the CAF Confederation Cup on the away goal rule.

The home team did not threaten much in the remaining part of the encounter as The Pride of Rivers pushed for a leveller.


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Prior to the game, Rivers United defender, Ebube Duru, had said the team will correct mistakes they made in the first leg of the tie, telling Brila FM that his side will not lose focus going into the match.

Rivers United’s loss came minutes after their Nigerian counterpart, Enyimba, defeated Al-Ittihad in the second-tier club competition in Africa.

Goals from Sadiq Abubakar and Victor Mbaoma ensured the twice-CAF Champions League winners moved a step closer to the group stage of the competition.

Enyimba’s Sunday victory followed the controversy which trailed the first leg of the encounter. The Nigerian side were barred from entering Tunisia, Al-Ittihad’s adopted home ground, owing to some COVID-19 protocols.

The Peoples Elephants, buoyed by a N1 million reward from a former Abia State Governor Orji Uzor Kalu, will now wait on the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for the date and venue for the postponed fixture.

CAFCC: Enyimba Defeat Al-Ittihad As Kalu Promises N1m Reward To Team

Enyimba are two-time African champions. Credit: Enyimba FC

 

Nigerian giants, Enyimba, defeated Al-Ittihad of Libya 2-0 in a CAF Confederation Cup encounter on Sunday. 

The Peoples Elephant took the lead in the 21st minute after Sadiq Abubakar connected neatly to a cross from Yakubu  Bilal.

A few minutes later, Victor  Mbaoma, doubled the scoreline as the Nigerian team cruised to a two-goal lead heading into the second half, pushing George Finidi’s side a step closer to the group stage of the competition.

The second half of the encounter was a bit relaxed as the two-time African Champions League winners held on to the two-goal cushion.

Before Sunday’s tie, Enyimba were unbeaten in eight games just as the Libyan team was on impressive form, losing only one of their last ten matches.

The win in Aba was a sequel to the postponement of the first leg of the game following controversies over COVID-19 protocols. The Peoples Elephants were barred from entering Tunisia which was Al-Ittihad’s adopted home ground.

Enyimba and Al-Ittihad will now wait on the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to know when the rescheduled match will be played.


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Buoyed To Win 


Hours before the win in Nigeria, a former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, had promised to “congratulate the players” with one million naira if they win the match.

“As Enyimba FC hosts Tunisians in Aba tomorrow, I wish the coach, the commissioner of sports, and all-loving fans of Enyimba well,” the lawmaker posted on his Facebook page Saturday.

“Coming out victorious in the match is very important to us. I will congratulate the players with one million naira if they win the match.”

CAF Confed. Cup: Enyimba, Rivers United To Face North African Foes

Enyimba are two-time African champions. Facebook/Enyimba FC

 

Two-time African champions, Enyimba and their Nigerian counterpart, Rivers United have been drawn against Al Ittihad of Libya and Egyptian side Al Masry respectively in the play-off of the CAF Confederations Cup.

“We’ve been paired against Libyan side Al Ittihad for the playoff round of the #CAFCC,” Enyimba said in a statement on its official Facebook page.

“The 1st leg will be played at the home of the Libyan side, while we’ll host the return fixture on the 1st weekend in December.”

Enyimba reached the play-off after beating Senegalese team Dimbars 4-0 on aggregate while Rivers United dropped to Africa’s second-tier competition following their elimination from the CAF Champions League. The Pride of Rivers lost 2-1 on aggregate to Al-Hilal of Sudan.

The first-leg games will take place on November 28 and the second leg is scheduled for December 5. Winners will advance to the group stage of the tournament.

Full Play-off Fixtures 

Nouadhibou (Mauritania) – Coton Sport (Cameroon)
US Gendarmerie Nationale (Niger) – DC Motema Pembe (DR Congo)
AS Otoho (Congo) – Gor Mahia (Kenya)
APR (Rwanda) – RS Berkane (Morocco)
TP Mazembe (DR Congo) – Marumo Gallants (South Africa)

Zanaco (Zambia) – Binga (Mali)
Simba (Tanzania) – Red Arrows (Zambia)
ASEC Mimosas (Cote d’Ivoire) – GD Interclube (Angola)
Hearts of Oak (Ghana) – JS Saoura (Algeria)
Rivers United (Nigeria) – Al Masry (Egypt)
Stade Malien (Mali) – Ahly Tripoli (Libya)/ Biashara United (Tanzania)
Al Ittihad (Libya) – Enyimba (Nigeria)
AS Maniema Union (DR Congo) – Pyramids (Egypt)
LPRC Oilers (Liberia) – Orlando Pirates (South Africa)
Royal Leopards (Eswatini) – JS Kabylie (Algeria)

Tusker (Kenya) – CS Sfaxien (Tunisia)

Glory And Gloom For Nigerian Clubs In CAF Confederation Cup

Enyimba are two-time African champions. Facebook/Enyimba FC

 

There was glory and gloom for Nigerian clubs in CAF Confederation Cup last-32 qualifying with Finidi George’s Enyimba cruising to victory on Sunday, a day after Bayelsa United were humiliated.

Enyimba outclassed Diambars, an academy outfit with links to the French Ligue 1, 3-0 in Aba after taking the lead within two minutes through Tosin Omoyele.

Victor Mbaoma doubled the lead before half-time in southeastern Nigeria and Samuel Kalu completed the rout in the final minute for a 4-0 aggregate triumph.

Former Nigeria World Cup star George recently took charge of the most successful Nigerian club in African competitions with two victories in each of the Champions League and the Super Cup.

But the last of those titles came in 2005, leaving football followers in the most populous African country longing for more CAF silverware.

READ ALSO: [2022 AWCON Qualifier] Super Falcons In Final Round Despite Losing To Ghana

Enyimba, popularly known as the Peoples Elephant, reached the Confederation Cup semi-finals in 2018 and the quarter-finals in 2020 and 2021.

“This club is a sleeping giant in Africa and it is time to win CAF competitions again,” said 1994 and 1998 World Cup midfielder George after his recent appointment.

Victory over Diambars takes Enyimba into a home-and-away play-off against a CAF Champions League last-32 loser during November and December with the draw date to be announced.

A day earlier, second-division Bayelsa conceded four goals in 28 minutes to crash 4-0 away to record three-time Confederation Cup winners CS Sfaxien in Tunisia.

Ivorian Chris Kouakou triggered the onslaught with an 11th-minute goal and Mohamed Ben Ali, Aymen Harzi and Firas Chaouat also netted for the local club in Mediterranean city Sfax.

Sfaxien, who trailed 1-0 after the first leg last weekend, advanced 4-1 on aggregate and are among the favourites to win the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League.

Another second-division team fared more successfully than Bayelsa with Malian minnows Binga scoring a late goal to beat hosts ASFA Yennenga of Burkina Faso 1-0 and then winning 7-6 on penalties.

Siaka Diaby notched the 85th-minute winner in a west African showdown played in the Ivory Coast because Burkina Faso does not have an international-standard stadium.

JS Kabylie, the Algerian club who finished runners-up to Raja Casablanca in the 2021 final, eliminated another Moroccan club, AS FAR, after Ali Haroun scored twice in a 2-1 home win.

The high-profile north African clash hung in the balance until the fourth minute of added time when Haroun netted a second time to seal a 3-1 overall triumph.

AFP

NPFL 21: Akwa United Beat Enyimba To Keep Title Winning Hopes Alive

 

Charles Atshimene scored a late penalty to give Akwa United a crucial 1-0 win over Enyimba FC, opened a five-point lead at the top, and took a huge step towards the league title.

The Nigeria Professional Football League matchday 32 fixture was played at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo. After matchday 31, the Promise Keepers maintained their top position but just two points kept them away from the impressive Kano Pillars and high-scoring Nasarawa United.

The first leg encounter, a matchday 12 fixture played in Aba ended 1-1. Defended, David Philip scored in the 94th minute to rescue a point for Akwa United after a spirited performance by the visitors. Enyimba got into today’s fixture to avenge that result.

It was a tense game and it was confirmed in the 12th minute when Marshall Johnson was pushed down and could not continue after receiving medical attention. He was replaced by Dare Ojo.

Moments later, Ikechukwu Nwani won an aerial ball and sets it up for Sampson Gbadebo whose low drive narrowly miss the target. Great attempt! Enyimba responded. Anayo Iwuala went down after being challenged by Olisa Ndah. Free kick to Enyimba. The effort couldn’t beat the wall, Samuel Amadi cleared it out to safety.

The first half ended goalless. In the second half, both sides went at each other but couldn’t find the goal. Akwa United created a chance in the 64th minute but didn’t take it. Gbadebo sent a long ball forward, Atshimene controlled it so well and set it up for Ubong Friday whose strike went across the face of the goal and goes wide. Enyimba initiated a fine move that ended with Iwuala releasing a shot but it was deflected into the side of the net.

In the 86th minute, Mfon Udoh had a good drive into the box and was brought down. Penalty to Akwa United! Atshimene stepped up to the spot and scored to give coach Kennedy Boboye’s team their 16th win of the season. It was also a record-breaking performance since 2013 (LMC era) for goalkeeper Adewale Adeyinka who recorded his 16th clean sheet of the season. Adeyinka broke Suraj Ayeleso’s record of 15 clean sheets for Nasarawa United in the 2016/2017 season. The Promise Keepers also consolidated their top position with 60 points while Enyimba will stay on 52 points.

 

Kano Pillars, Nasarawa United Setback

Before matchday 32 action, Kano Pillars and Nasarawa United, two major contenders for the top position with Akwa United, failed to close the gap. Both teams were hoping to continue their fine form from matchday 3-1. Pillars thrashed Lobi Stars 3-0 while Nasarawa United beat Jigawa Golden Stars 3-1.

In Akure, Kano Pillars went against a rejuvenated Sunshine Stars team. Beating Heartland FC 0-1 in Owerri in their last match, the Owena Whales, fighting to avoid the drop were ready to take the heat to Sai Masu Gida.

Coach Deji Ayeni retained the same team that stunned Heartland to secure a second away win this season and the team delivered. Babatunde Bello came close to open the scoring for the hosts in the 29th minute but Pillars goalkeeper stopped him. Ifegwu Ojukwu’s effort in the 40th minute was also stopped. The first half ended goalless.

When play resumed, Sunshine Stars kept knocking on the door of the visitors till they opened. In the 59th minute, the reliable Sadeeq Yusuf scored the only goal of the match to secure an important victory. It is Yusuf’s 12th goal of the season, the team’s 9th win of the campaign, and good enough to lift them off the relegation zone. The result dropped Kano Pillars to 4th on the log.

In Nnewi, FC Ifeanyi Ubah, also battling relegation, laboured to a 2-1 victory over Nasarawa United. The Anambra Warriors fell 3-0 to Katsina United in their last match, losing to the Solid Miners would have been disastrous to their league campaign.

The hosts played with intent and in the 29th minute took the lead through Nonso Nzediegwu’s goal. The visitors, playing with the top spot position agenda needed just 2 minutes to respond through Chigozie Obasi. The defender fired in a free-kick from 40 yards, his 4th goal of the season. 1-1. Game on!

It was a tight encounter with both sides in a desperate search for victory. The Solid Miners were reduced to ten men after Sadiq Abdurazaq received a second yellow card for a foul. The hosts capitalised on the man advantage and in the 70th minute, Uzochukwu Ifejiofor delivered the win for the Anambra Warriors to seal just their 8th victory of the season, they improved to 34 points but still rooted in the relegation zone. Nasarawa United retained the second position but now tied on 55 points with Rivers United and Kano Pillars.

 

Back To Winning Ways

At the Okigwe Township Stadium, after losing five consecutive matches, Abia Warriors returned to winning ways with a dramatic 2-1 victory over Kwara United. The Warriors have been struggling and had to dig deep to secure a win over a determined team from Ilorin.

With just five minutes into the encounter, Jide Fatokun stunned the hosts with a goal. It was a screamer! Early lead for the visitors and more worry for coach Imama Amapakabo. The visitors took the lead into the break.

In the second half, the Warriors deployed all they had in search of a goal and they found it in the 66th minute through Paul Samson. It was his 7th goal of the season. From the 80th minute, the match became a tale of Obioma Chukwuemeka.

In the 83rd minute, Chukwuemeka scored but the goal was disallowed. The home spectators couldn’t take it, they felt cheated. The deliberations on the canceled goal halted play for some time. When play resumed, Chukwuemeka took things personal.

He capitalised on a defensive error to shoot the hosts into the lead and the eventual winner. With the hard-fought victory, Abia Warriors, climbed to the 14 position with 38points while the Harmony Boys dropped to the 7th position on 52points. Up next for the Warriors will be Wikki Tourist of Bauchi in Bauchi.

At the Cathedral in Enugu, Rangers International Football Club also returned to winning ways with a 2-1 victory over Wikki Tourists of Bauchi. The Flying Antelopes suffered a 2-0 defeat at Kwara United in their last match and another defeat would have dented their league ambitions. The game against Wikki Tourists was a good test on their character and consistency and they passed it.

An early goal by Godspower Anifiok got the hosts rolling. They sustained the momentum and moments later, Ugochukwu Ugwoke doubled the lead. An own-goal scored by Ernest Governor was the only consolation the visitors took back home. Another win for the Flying Antelopes, their 15th this season, they have gathered 52 points and 7th on the log.

Rivers United also got back to winning ways with a 2-1 victory over struggling Warri Wolves. The last result for the Pride of Rivers was a 1-1 draw with Enyimba in Aba and the matchday 32 objective was to consolidate on that result.

But it was the visitors who had the first laugh when Emmanuel Ihezuo gave them the lead. Rivers United responded through Godwin Aguda in the 23rd minute. Aguda completed his brace in the 60th minute to secure victory for coach Stanley Eguma’s team who are now 3rd on the log with 55 points.

In Makurdi, Nnamdi Mejuobi’s first-half goal gave Lobi Stars a 1-0 win over Adamawa United, Jigawa Golden Stars beat Plateau United 1-0 while the game between MFM FC and Katsina United in Lagos ended goalless.

On Saturday, Dakkada FC defeated Heartland FC 1-0 to record their 14th win of the season and moved to 9th on the league table. Matchday 32 recorded 17 goals, 9 wins and a draw.

 

NIGERIA PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE

Matchday 32 Results

Sunday

Akwa United 1 Enyimba FC 0

Sunshine Stars 1 Kano Pillars 0

FC Ifeanyi Ubah 2 Nasarawa United 1

Abia Warriors 2 Kwara United 1

Rangers Int’l FC 2 Wikki Tourists 1

Rivers United 2 Warri Wolves 1

Lobi Stars 1 Adamawa United 0

Jigawa Golden Stars 1 Plateau United 0

MFM FC 0 Katsina United 0

 

Saturday

Dakkada FC 1 Heartland FC 0

Enyimba Believe They Can Wipe Out Pyramids’ Three-Goal Advantage

A file photo of Eyimba FC players on a football pitch.

 

 

Enyimba coach Fatai Osho insists the Nigerian club can reach the CAF Confederation Cup semi-finals despite needing to overcome a three-goal deficit when they host Egyptian outfit Pyramids on Sunday. 

“This tie is not over,” he told reporters. “Some shocking defending, tiredness and a lack of concentration cost us dearly in Cairo. We were not three goals worse than our opponents.”

Goals by Ramadan Sobhy and Ibrahim Adel came gift-wrapped from hesitant and careless defenders as 2020 runners-up Pyramids established a 4-1 quarter-final first-leg advantage.

Here, AFP Sport looks ahead to the return matches with Pyramids, Raja Casablanca of Morocco and JS Kabylie of Algeria expected to secure last-four places with Jaraaf of Senegal or Coton Sport of Cameroon.

Enyimba v Pyramids

Enyimba have won all four home matches in the Confederation Cup, but each victory has been by a one-goal margin with the team from southeastern city Aba averaging only 1.5 goals per match.

Captain Augustine Oladapo, Victor Mbaoma and Cyril Olisema have claimed seven of the eight goals Enyimba notched in the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League, so much will hinge on their performances.

Pyramids have their sights on the semi-finals and a probable meeting with Raja, who beat the expensively assembled Cairo club twice in the group stage.

Raja v Pirates

Raja take a perfect four-victory home record this season into a clash of former CAF Champions League winners against famed Soweto club Orlando Pirates.

Although the odds have tilted toward a Moroccan victory after they forced a 1-1 draw in South Africa, Pirates’ coach Josef Zinnbauer is upbeat despite his side failing to score in their last three away games.

“We respect Raja because they are one of the most successful clubs in Africa, but we travelled to Casablanca without fear. Ben Malango is a dangerous forward and needs to be constantly policed.”

Jaraaf v Coton

Jaraaf and Coton, who take a 1-0 lead to Thies near Dakar, represent countries desperate for African club glory.

No Senegalese club has lifted a African trophy with Jeanne d’Arc coming closest by reaching the 1998 final of the now-defunct CAF Cup.

Cameroon last celebrated success 40 years ago when Union Douala lifted the African Cup Winners Cup, another competition that was discontinued after the 2003 final.

Kabylie v Sfaxien

This north African showdown has taken a surprise turn with Kabylie building a 1-0 advantage in Tunisia over record three-time Confederation Cup title-holders Sfaxien.

The first meeting was a tale of two penalties with leading Sfaxien scorer Firas Chaouat missing and Kabylie captain Redha Bensayah converting.

Kabylie boast an unbeaten home record in Africa this season, winning four matches and drawing one, and are expected to progress given they need only draw to do so.

CAFCC: Enyimba Beat South Africa’s Orlando Pirates, Qualify For Quarter-Finals

Enyimba is the only Nigerian team in the tournament and the CAF Champions League. (Photo: Twitter @EnyimbaFC)

 

Enyimba have qualified for the quarter-finals of the CAF Confederation Cup (CAFCC) after a 95th-minute goal from Cyril Olisema gave the Nigerian side a 1-0 win over Orlando Pirates on Wednesday night.

The Peoples Elephant needed a win going into their final Group A encounter against the South Africans to advance to the next stage of the competition.
At half-time and with the score pegged goalless, the Aba-based side were at the bottom of the group standings.

While many fans may have given up on the multiple Nigerian champions, Anayo Iwuala’s cross found Olisema; the latter wasted no time in slamming the ball past the Pirates’ goal to send his club to the next round.

Wednesday’s win ensured that coach Fatai Osho’s charges finished top of the group with three wins and three losses.

[READ ALSO] Champions League: Man City Fight Back To Beat PSG In Semi-Final First Leg

Pirates had beaten Enyimba 2-1 in the reverse fixture of the encounter. Despite the loss in Nigeria, the South African club side made it to the quarters alongside Enyimba.

 

The Nigerian team lost 2-1 in the reverse fixture of the encounter against the Pirates (Photo: Twitter @Orlando Pirates FC)

 

JS Kabylie; Jaraaf. CS Sfaxien, Cotonsport, Pyramids, and Raja Casablanca are the other teams that qualified for the quarter-finals of the tournament.

The draw for the next round of Africa’s second-tier club competition will be held on Friday, April 30th in Egypt.

An ‘Ultimate Aim’

Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State had described Enyimba’s win as a testament to the indefatigable spirit of the club, thanking fans and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) for their support.

“The massive support the team received from her fans across the globe & particularly from the NFF under the able leadership of  Pinnick Amaju should serve as tonic for greater commitment & hard work,” the governor tweeted on his official handle on Thursday morning.

“I’m personally thrilled by the fact that matches can now be played at the Enyimba International Stadium by 10pm with floodlights on an ultra mordern turf, complimented by a digital score board all of which were provided by our administration & which also attracted accolades from the match commentators!

“Good Thinking, Good Product! Congrats Enyimba! Let’s keep the flag flying until we achieve our ultimate aim!”

CAF Confed Cup: Enyimba Beat Setif To Record Second Win

Enyimba’s captain, Austin Oladapo, and his teammates celebrate one of their goals against Algeria’s Entente Setif in the Group A match of the CAF Confederation Cup in Aba, Abia State on April 4, 2021. Photo: Twitter- @CAFCLCC

 

Enyimba’s captain, Austin Oladapo, and striker, Tosin Omoyele, scored a goal each to give the Nigerian side a 2-1 victory over Algeria’s Entente Setif on matchday 3 of the CAF Confederation Cup in Aba, a town in Abia State.

Monsef Bakrar shot the visitors into the lead in the 13th minute after poor communication between Enyimba’s defenders.

Three minutes later, the hosts were awarded a penalty after Omoyele was brought down in the area.

Oladapo stepped up to it but goalkeeper Sofiane Khedairia produced a fine safe to stop him and kept Setif’s lead.

Just before the break, Oladapo made amends for his miss after Omoyele gave a short pass to Dayo Ojo who laid it a sweet one for the incoming captain (Oladapo) who unleashed a shot with his left foot to beat goalkeeper Khedairia.

That goal calmed the nerves of coach Fatai Osho and his technical crew as they went into the break with a levelled score-line.

The starting 11 players of Enyimba FC are listed in this piece. Photo: [email protected]

 

When action resumed in the second half, Enyimba took control of the game with Anayo Iwuala producing productive runs that cracked the walls of Setif’s defence.

In the 60th minute, it was the same Iwuala who dazzled, confused the visitors’ defenders and placed a fine pass to Omoyele to score the second goal for the People’s Elephant.

With the victory, Enyimba have regained leadership of the Group A table with six points, pending the outcome of the match between Ahli Benghazi and Orlando Pirates scheduled to hold later on Sunday night.

The champions of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) will play Setif again in a matchday 4 fixture on Sunday next week.