CAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Duro Ikhazuagbe with agency report
Despite going down 3-0 to Etoile du Sahel last night in Sousse, Tunisia, Nigeria’s last team standing in continental campaign this year, Enyimba FC survived a nail-biting penalty shoot out to qualify 4-3 for the money spinning group stage of the CAF Champions League.
In the second leg of the second round qualifying gameat the Olympic Stadium in Sousse with over 20,000 fans rooting for the home team, Etoile canceled out Enyimba’s 3-0 advantage to end regulation time at 3-3 aggregate to drag the game into shoot-out.
However, in the penalties, Enyimba triumphed 4-3 after it dragged into sudden death.
Enyimba’s goalkeeper, Theophilous Afelokhai was the man of the match for the number of saves he chalked up to earn the People’s Elephant the ticket to the group stage.
The shootout was a repeat of 12 years ago when Enyimba retained the Champions League by edging past the Tunisians on penalties after aggregate scores stood at 3-3.
Enyimba defended resolutely going into the return leg inside a packed stadium, but they offered very little going forward.
The seven-time Nigeria champions held out until the 42nd minute, when a well-taken free kick by Hamza Lahmar flew over the defensive wall and beyond the impressive Afelokhai.
Etoile continued to take the game to Enyimba after the interval and they were rewarded in the 62nd minute, when the Brazilian Diego Acosta headed home from close range.
The Tunisia league leaders then completed a remarkable comeback on 71 minutes, when Acosta finished off another attack with a low shot from inside the box which beat Afelokhai hollow.
The game therefore had to be decided on penalties and after Enyimba lost their first two kicks with substitute goalkeeper Jebali saving, Afelokhai then pulled off the saves that gave them hope to fight back and win 4-3 on penalties in sudden death.
Etoile will now drop down to feature in the second-tier Confederation Cup, which they won last year.
Elsewhere on the night, TP Mazembe’s reign as kings of African club football ended after they were eliminated by Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca.
Mazembe, the Champions League winners in 2015, were held to a 1-1 draw in Lubumbashi by Wydad in the return leg of their cup tie, a result which saw the DR Congo giants suffer a 3-1 aggregate defeat overall.