Cyril Olisema’s goal just before the hour mark gave Enyimba a slim 1-0 victory over Rivers United at a waterlogged Enyimba Stadium on Sunday and put them in the driving seat for a place in the group stage of the Confederation Cup.
A rain-soaked first half saw both sides labour to move the ball about the pitch with chances few and far between.
But Olisema reacted quickly to turn in Anayo Iwuala’s centre after the interval to give the home side a first leg advantage in the final qualifying round of the Confederation Cup.
The return fixture comes up in Port Harcourt on 21 February, with aggregate winners advancing to the group stage of the tournament.
Enyimba will, however, be without striker Tosin Omoyele for the fixture after he was shown a red card in the 75th minute for dissent.
The loss marked an unhappy homecoming for goalkeeper Theophilus Afelokhai and defender Ifeanyi Anaemena both of whom left the Aba Elephants to join Rivers United on free transfers in the off season.
Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wine had dangled a N20m incentive for the state-owned football team to get the win in Aba but the away side never looked like cashing in on the offer.
Both sides had bickered over their final standings in the truncated 2019-20 season and who would represent Nigeria in the CAF Champions League with Enyimba eventually getting the nod.
After Enyimba fell short in Champions League qualification and drew Rivers United in the final qualifying round of the Confederation Cup, it appeared the grudge match had been scripted by the football gods to give both sides the chance to settle their quarrels once and for all.
And after taking what Rivers United believe to be their legitimate place in the table and condemning them to the Confederation Cup, Enyimba are on the verge of dumping them out of the continent completely – however, Rivers United will have plenty to say about that in the second leg.