Both Nigerian representatives in the 2015 Caf Champions League cannot afford to start celebrating Monday’s draw yet, not without a glance at their possible route to the group stages.
Reigning Glo Premier League champions Kano Pillars will pit their wit against little-known Al-Malakia FC of South Sudan, while Enyimba International FC are expected to outlast Beninese champions Buffles du Borgou FC (BBFC), following the preliminary rounds draw of the 19th edition of the competition held in Cairo, Egypt.
An easy draw it is on paper but, not as the two Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) flag bearers aim to supersede their previous achievements, having had to pitch tent in difficult pathways of the draw and with over 5000km of air travel on the card en route to the group stages- that neverless calls for another quick glance at the list of income generation in the 2013-14 league season.
Four-time NPFL champions Pillars have yet to reach the group stages since their semi-finals berth in their maiden appearance in 2009. We could recall that the ‘Sai Masu Gida’, fresh from winning back-to-back Nigeria league titles in February, were edged out of the competition in the preliminary round by eventual finalists AS Vita of DR Congo after failing to overturn a 2-goal deficit from the first-leg away tie (3-1) a fortnight after at the Sani Abacha Stadium; going on to lose 4-3 on aggregate.
Two-time champions Enyimba were knocked out in the first round by AS Real Bamako of Mali after axing Togolese outfit Anges de Notse (amidst claims of shabby treatment of the Nigerian club’s contingent in Lome ahead of the second leg) in the preliminary rounds. The 2014 edition marked the first time Enyimba failed to reach the group stages since their inaugural participation in 2002- with six other appearances in-between as well as back-to-back triumphs in 2003 and 2004.
Nigerian fans are clamouring for more of Vincent Enyeama, Emeka Nwana et al heroic in the wake of a decade-long endurance in African football wilderness. But it takes the courage to search into the unknown to unravel greatness, so join me let us quickly envisage Pillars’ and Enyimba’s possible route to the money-spinning group stages of the 2015 Caf Champions League.
Pillars! Judge the book by its cover at your own peril
Pillars begin their fifth Champions League quest with a first-leg trip to South Sudan against National Cup winners Malakia at the 12,000 capacity Juba Stadium in the weekend of 13 February, 2015, while the return leg comes up two weeks later in Kano. The Nigerian champions could venture fancy their chances against Malaika, which appears to be much better than in February, when a poor start in Kinsasha cost them progress to the first round.
And talking about a side with the highest number of wins in the Glo Premier League this season (19); most goals (57) and most home goals (42), suffix it to say it will take a modern day David vs. Golliath miracle for the South Sudanese champions to flick the odd tables around, yet it does not get any easier for Okey Emordi’s side.
We might as well foresee Pillars advancing beyond the preliminaries, and then bumping into the winners of another prelims between Moroccan club Mohgreb Athletic de Tetouan- remember them? from the 2014 Fifa Club World Cup- and Club Olympique de Bamako from Mali in the first round.
At this point, Pillars would not be far from booking a second round date with winners of the first round clash between either Mozambican side Liga D. Maputo or Armee Patriotique Rwandaise from Rwanda and record eight-time winners Al Ahly SC of Egypt, who has been drawn bye into the round wherefrom. Correct me if a possible Pillars-Al Ahly round two ticket does not possess that credential of an African classic, better still a tipping point for the surprise of the championship. However, elimination in the second round of the Caf Champions League earns you a Caf Confederations Cup play-offs round ticket and what an honourable way to bow out, judging by the fact we just involved the most decorated team in the history of club football.
Enyimba can complete treble
Talks about six-time Nigerian champions, Enyimba, winning a third Caf Champions League title has become a regular rant season-in, season-out, but the famous club from Aba have yet to impose their status as trail blazers on other teams in the competition. Enyimba were the first side to record back-to-back Caf Champions League successes and the first team from Nigeria to win the continental club football showpiece.
They will be at home to BBFC in the weekend of 13 February, 2015, with the second leg clash slated for the 8,000 sitter stade Municipal in Parakou, Benin, a fortnight later. Buffles will be making their first appearance in the championship at the Enyimba International Stadium in less than two months’ time having pulled out of what would have been their only participation in 1993, in the revised African Cup of Champions Clubs competition.
Enyimba would face winners of the preliminary round between Ahli Tripoli of Libya and Smouha ofEgypt in the first round.
The ‘Peoples Elephant’s’ last but not the least hurdle before a prospective group stage return could involve a clash with any of 2014 Kenyan Premier League champions Gor Mahia or Madagascar’s Caisse Natonale de Prevoyance Sociale (CNAPS) and AC Leopards of Congo.
AC Leopards, who were drawn bye in the preliminary rounds of the 2015 competition, have faced two other Nigerian sides in the past four seasons, topping both of those fixtures. ‘The Beasts from Niari’, as they are fondly called, knocked Heartland out of Round 2 of the 2011 Caf Confederations Cup and Pillars from Round one of the 2013 Champions League, both on away goal rules.
Preliminary round first-leg: Weekend of February 13, 14, 15
Preliminary round second-leg: Weekend of February 27, 28 and March 01
First round first-leg matches: Weekend of March 13, 14, 15.
First round second-leg: Weekend of April 03, 04, 05
Second round first-leg: Weekend of April 17, 18, 19
Second round second-leg: Weekend of May 01, 02, 03