Nigeria’s sole representatives on the continent Enyimba on Wednesday lost 1-0 to Raja Casablanca of Morocco at the Enyimba Stadium in Aba in the first leg of their semi-final match of the CAF Confederation Cup.
A goal from Abdelilah Hafidi gave Raja an advantage ahead of the second leg in Casablanca on October 24. The loss was also the first for the People’s Elephant at the newly-renovated Enyimba Stadium.
Enyimba coach Usman Abdallah started Theophilus Afelokhai in goal with Ifeanyi Anaemena, Nelson Ogbonnaya, Ikouwem Utin and Andrew Abalogu in defence while Dare Ojo, Austin Oladapo, Joseph Osadiaye and Stanley Dimgba were in the midfield. Ibrahim Mustapha and Sunday Adetunji started in attack.
Raja were on a five-match unbeaten run coming into the match while the People’s Elephant were also unbeaten in three matches.
However, the North Africans started the game the better side showing a sense of urgency as they sought for an away goal. The hosts grew into the game and matched Raja in the attack. The seven-time Nigerian champions then took over the game and continued to search for the opener – forcing the visitors to defend and rely on counter-attacks.
Enyimba struggled to threaten the goal of their guests with Dimgba only coming to life once in a while as he tried to break through the Moroccan’s defence. Ojo fired a long-range effort from outside the box in the 30th minute but Raja goalkeeper gathered it easily.
As the first half wore on, Raja were contented with playing in their half and catching Enyimba on the counter. They also created the better chances in the half with Afelokhai making some saves.
However, in the 48th minute, Hafidi was found unmarked with a free-kick from the half line. His low shot from distance, which was deflected, squirmed through Afelokhai’s legs.
However, Enyimba were handed a lifeline in the 65th minute when a Raja defender handled the ball in the penalty area. But Dimgba failed to draw the two-time CAF Champions League winners level as he blasted his kick off target.
Enyimba searched for an equaliser but Raja held on to take the advantage into the second leg. Late in the match, Afelokhai was replaced with Super Eagles keeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa after he pulled his hamstring.
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