16 December 2014 10:33
It is perfectly conceivable for a goalkeeper to take the plaudits and dominate newspaper back pages in the aftermath of a triumphant cup win. Every now and again it does happen. What is almost unheard of though, is when there are two of them sharing the adulations, particularly when they play for the same team.
This was the case ten years ago to this Friday, when Nigerian side Enyimba spectacularly retained their CAF Champions League title – the first club to do so in 36 years. While that is noteworthy enough, the contributions of Vincent Enyeama and Dele Aiyenugba at either end of the field place the game into the category of a continental classic.
The match against Etoile Sahel of Tunisia – in their first Champions League final – was finely poised, coming off the back of a 2-1 first-leg defeat in North Africa for Enyimba. Enyeama had been on sparkling form in that game, meaning when they reconvened in Abuja – 275 miles from Enyimba’s home of Aba, because of stadium security concerns – the hosts’ away goal was all the more valuable.
Having lifted the same trophy 12 months earlier, the West Africans had been bullish all year, with defender Ajibade Omolade claiming their name would be engraved for a second time as far back as July, proclaiming: “we know we are going to lift the trophy again – by God’s grace.” That confidence seemed well stocked in front of 30,000 partisan fans as they were dominant from the off, though a well organised Etoile backline kept them at bay inside the first half hour.
Things dramatically kicked up a notch from there though, with Emeka Nwanna seemingly putting the hosts level on aggregate, only to be flagged offside. But a minute later, with the crowd still despairing, they got their break when Mohamed Miladi was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the area.
As soon as that decision was blown, a somewhat surprising figure marched the length of the pitch to place the ball on the spot in the shape of Enyeama. He already had ten goals to his name in Enyimba colours, having forged a reputation as a strong spot-kick taker, but never on an occasion like this. The setting did not faze the 22-year-old though, who sent opposite number Austin Ejide the wrong way in slamming the ball home just before the break.
Just ten seconds after they had returned to the field it could have been two, with Ndidi Anumnu pouncing on an awful lapse in concentration by Kais Zouaghi, only for the Nigerian forward to lift his effort over the bar. Fans were not made to wait long though, as seven minutes later Mouri Ogunbiyi capitalised on more poor defending, steering home after Etoile failed to clear their lines to make it 3-2.
It looked like the game was soon to be a foregone conclusion, with Enyimba rampant, but Etoile against the run of play hit back through the unlikely source of Zouaghi. Captain Zoubier Baya’s free-kick found the defender’s head and his effort looped over a stranded Enyeama to silence the crowd with 30 minutes still on the clock.
Both sides pushed for a decisive goal, with Enyeama and Ejide being forced into vital stops to maintain parity. With the last of five minutes of stoppage time on the clock, and penalties imminent – as extra time was not a feature for the final – Enyimba coach Okey Emordi made what proved to be the telling roll of the dice. On the fourth official’s board was the number of eventual man of the match and player of the tournament Enyeama, with Aiyenugba wearing his gloves and prepared to enter the field solely for the shootout.
Many will have thought this gamble was one devised by Louis van Gaal with the Netherlands, as he introduced Tim Krul to stunning effect against Costa Rica to win their 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ quarter-final. In fact it was at least a decade old, as Emordi had already employed the technique in dispatching Esperance on penalties in the semi-finals and plumped for the same tactic again.
It took just two kicks to pay off, as Aiyenugba produced a stunning save, high to his left, to deny Sabeur Ben Frej. With every other penalty converted it was just left to captain Obinna Nwaneri to seal a historic title, with Aiyenugba carried aloft as a hero by his team-mates.
“Successfully defending the Champions League was a lot more difficult than when we first won it last year,” Emordi reflected, who took over the reins from Kadiri Ikhana at the start of the year and was voted as CAF Coach of Year, much like his predecessor.
“Because after our triumph in 2003, Enyimba were no longer a little team on the continent and the pressure was on us to prove to our critics that our first cup win was no fluke. We are a team that makes history.”
After the event many declared Aiyenugba’s penalty prowess was purely down to luck, but he saw it very differently. “It is wrong for anybody to see it as a chance thing. It comes to me naturally,” he explained. “The opportunity always becomes the tonic that gingers me to give it my very best. I have the knack and I pysch myself up for the task which always gives the takers a lot of problems.
Confederation of African Football (CAF) News