Enyimba boss Fatai Osho says his side will not “deviate from” pursuing a win at Al Merrikh in the first leg of their Champions League first round tie as they bid to avoid elimination by Sudanese opposition at this stage for a second straight season.
Two-time champions Enyimba face Al Merrikh in Omdurman in Wednesday’s 2pm kickoff ahead of the second leg in Aba two weeks later, with the winners advancing to the group stage of CAF’s premier club competition.
To get to this stage, the Aba Elephants defeated Burkina Faso side Rahimo FC in the preliminary round while Al Merrikh saw off Congolese side Otoho d’Oyo.
The sequence of matches for Enyimba is eerily similar to last season where they also dispatched Rahimo in the preliminary stage before taking on Sudanese giants Al Hilal in the first round where a goalless stalemate in Aba was followed by a narrow 1-0 loss in Omdurman which saw the Nigerians ousted from the competition and dumped into the Confederation Cup.
As they get set to take on another Sudanese side, Osho who was assistant coach at the time of the loss to Al Hilal believes fate has conspired to give Enyimba an advantage of sorts by pitting them away from home for the first leg against Al Merrikh.
The former Remo Stars boss blamed last season’s failure to progress to the group stage on Enyimba not doing enough in the first leg in Aba which left them with a mountain to climb in the return fixture.
Having been afforded the chance of playing away from home first this time around, Osho says his wards must seize the opportunity to “get a good result, a nice one at that” which they can then “consolidate” on in Aba and he insists a win in Omdurman is not out of the question.
“It was so clear that we couldn’t do much at our home in Aba, and it’s a big one that when you go on the road you’ve got to go and get results, and we consolidate on that,” Osho said of last season’s defeat to Al Hilal.
“We know we have to do a lot of jobs there to get a good result, a nice one at that. And going on to Aba to consolidate, it’s quite important that we get a win [which] will be a good result for us the way we’re looking at it, and we are not deviating from that.”
While the game marks the first time Enyimba and Al Merrikh will face off in the competition, a quirk of fate means the game will be played at the Al Hilal Stadium, the scene of Enyimba’s ouster last season as the Red Castle – Al Merrikh’s home ground – is currently closed for renovation.
Osho, however, contends that what is essentially a neutral ground holds no particular advantage for either side.
The Enyimba boss says it would have made little difference were the match to hold at Al Merrikh’s home ground as CAF’s Covid-19 protocols meant the game would still have held behind closed doors regardless of venue with fans unable to cheer the home side to victory.
“To be honest, I think the pandemic has neutralized that completely,” Osho said.
“If they’re playing at their home ground, no fan will be there to watch and we are playing behind closed doors, and same thing we’ve been having here in Omdurman, because the fans will not be there, just like we are going home, and when they come our fans will not be here to cheer us.
“It’s just like a level playing field to all the teams, the era of home and away has been neutralized completely by the Covid-19 pandemic.”