Ahead of their second leg semi-final encounter against Raja Casablanca of Morocco in the 2018 CAF Confederation Cup, Enyimba head coach Usman Abd’Allah says he has a fully fit squad that is working on “certain tactical strategies” to ensure that they “score and never concede” as the Peoples’ Elephant bid to overturn a one nil first leg defeat.
An Abdelilah Hafidi strike in the 48th minute condemned Enyimba to a first ever semi final home defeat on the continent and the Aba based side are on the verge of a third successive exit at the semi final stage on the continent after losing one nil on aggregate in the semi finals of the CAF champions league to Al Ahly in 2008 and Wydad Casablanca in 2011. They failed to score at home on both occasions, something they are now condemned to do at least twice on Wednesday if they are to become the first team to inflict a home defeat on Raja in this year’s competition at the cavernous 67,000 capacity Stade Mohammed V in Casablanca.
Abd’Allah had blamed the first leg defeat on fatigue as a result of the congested Aiteo Cup calendar with his players having to play multiple matches with barely any recovery times in between. But having been knocked out of the Aiteo Cup, Abd’Allah says he’s been afforded quality time with his squad and they head into the game well rested and in good physical condition.
“The most important thing is that we have had a very good couple of weeks, the players are well rested, we are well prepared now, and the most important thing is we are very focused and we played a couple of matches and I’m satisfied with the performance of the players,” Abd’Allah told busybuddiesng.com.
“Most of the players that were on the injury list have fully recovered and our team is fully back, Anaemena is back, Afelokhai is back also Fatai Dauda [who had been suspended by the club] is back after resolving his disciplinary issues.
“Now that we’ve seen Raja we are also working on certain tactical strategies whereby we’ll come out with a good result over there, we are confident that we are going to make Nigeria proud.”
Abd’Allah is huge on tactics and strategy and will have to get his spot on considering how laboured his team were in the first leg which was in stark contrast to the verve and dynamism displayed by the North Africans. The Kano born tactician attributed Raja’s performance in the first leg to the fact that the North Africans had a game plan which was perfectly executed although he pointed out that his team were unlucky with Stanley Dimgba missing a penalty which would have drawn them level in the 66th minute.
“Well, the last match it’s all about tactics,” Abd’Allah said. “It’s all about reading the game, being focused and planning your strategy and getting it right. I think they planned their strategy and credit goes to them because they got it right and they denied us the ball and kept possession to buy out more time.
“Luckily for them they were blessed and then got that mistake and got a goal and then we also had a chance of a penalty and we lost it.”
Abd’Allah would love his team to play with more urgency, finesse and cohesion in Casablanca but the coach isn’t losing sight of the broader objective which he says is to “score and never concede” and would settle for any sort of performance that leads to Enyimba qualifying.
“Right now,” he says, “it is all about strategy, it is the result that matter we need a goal to qualify so whatever the case maybe I think we have to score so that’s the most important thing and we cannot afford to concede.
“These are two things that we keep in mind when we [take to the pitch], so we keep focus we have to score and never concede so at the end of the day we see how the result goes.”
The defunct club Dolphins FC were the last Nigerian club to reach the finals of this competition in 2005 and no Nigerian club has lifted this trophy since 1994 when another defunct club Bendel Insurance won.
Enyimba would have to overcome a Raja side that are unbeaten in 10 matches and have lost just once in their last 15 matches if they are to match either of those defunct clubs that went past this stage in the tournament. It is a daunting task but Abd’Allah strikes a defiant tone and has a message for those in a hurry to write them off.
“We’ve been in this situation before so for people writing us off I think we are going to prove them wrong.”