14 November 2017

Nigeria: Battle for the Continent - How MFM Escaped Enyimba's Siege

Enyimba's Chairman, Felix Anyansi-Agwu's countenance after Rangers forced his boys to a 1-1 draw in Enugu spoke volumes. You would expect him to be happy after news emerged that Akwa United had lost in Ibadan but he, obviously had other ideas.

Shooting Stars beating Akwa thrust Enyimba into third position, needing a win of any sort against Katsina United on the last day to book a CAF Confederation Cup ticket irrespective of what happens in Uyo. That his boys got a result Akwa failed to get in Ibadan should make Anyansi-Agwu one of the happiest men around the arena but his mood was shockingly different.

He was among the last to leave as he was glued to his seat long after the final whistle. Hands on his jaw, he gazed into space and couldn't mutter a word. Obviously, bemoaning a lost opportunity. When he managed to rise up, he took the 'long' walk speaking to no one. He was battling hard to subdue his emotions. Men also cry, you know.

His expectations may have been heightened by the fact that his boys led till four minutes of regulation time left. At that point, the prospect of leaving Enugu with maximum points was more appealing. If Chibuzor Madu didn't convert the late penalty that shared the spoils, Enyimba was primed to secure a Champions League ticket if they beat Katsina and MFM fails to win in Maiduguri on the last day.

This was Anyansi-Agwu's ideal scenario. While a return to the continent, whatever competition, is paramount, Enyimba always craves to play in the more illustrious Champions League. Why not? The People's Elephants are two-time African champions and are always comfortable mixing it with the continent's best.

The hunger in Enyimba was highlighted in the way they approached the Wikki game on match day 36, well aware that only a high scoreline will boost their ambitions. The 4-0 scoreline would have served as a fillip to their quest for the bigger pie.

Enyimba's emphatic defeat of Wikki made Akwa rue missed chances in the 2-1 victory over Lobi two days earlier. Suddenly, the teams were tied on both points and goals difference. Hitherto, Akwa had a superior goals difference, an advantage that would have come to the fore if both teams ended up with the same points.

Match day 37 results changed all these. If both teams lost, it would have come down to who conceded or scored more goals. The emphasis on the last match day would have been on the number of goals scored if they record routine wins at home. But Enyimba's draw in Enugu places them in third position on 58 points, one ahead of Akwa.

The tie on points and goals difference has been broken. Enyimba is now in the driving seat in the battle for the Confederation Cup ticket. Akwa must beat Kano Pillars in Uyo while hoping Enyimba doesn't win against Katsina. But, while Akwa needs favours from Katsina, Enyimba needs no such favours from anyone. All they need to do is beat Katsina and the ticket is in the bag irrespective of what happens in Uyo. This highlights the importance of that solitary point in Enugu.

So while Anyansi-Agwu might play Oliver Twist, he should also take into cognizance the other possible scenarios. What if Enyimba lost and Akwa won in Ibadan? What if Akwa had also drawn in Ibadan? What if the Promise Keepers had even won? Enyimba would have been on the back foot. Now, the ticket is theirs lose.

Not a few believe Akwa has played the best football all season. They are even good enough to pick a Champions League ticket but Enyimba's experience in season run-ins shone through. It is not yet Uhuru but the knack to get decisive results at crucial moments has made the task easier for the seven-time Nigerian champions. And it is Akwa's failure to get such key results that has been their bane.

But, while these teams' aspirations have been limited to the Confederation Cup ticket, MFM should be grateful to Madu for not missing the late minute spot kick against Enyimba. MFM coach, Fidelis Ilechukwu has been talking tough, fancying his team's chances of beating Elkanemi in Maiduguri while wishing Plateau bottle it against Rangers paving the way for the Olukoya boys to win the title. Ilechukwu can now concentrate on overhauling Plateau at the top since he has no cause to look over his shoulders.

One man's meat, another's poison. Anyansi-Agwu's loss, Ilechukwu's gain.

Nigeria

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