Enyimba rescue Nigeria but the other clubs must pull their weight

(KweséESPN)

As celebrations erupted in Aba following Enyimba’s 5-1 rout of Rwanda’s Rayon Sport in Sunday’s CAF Confederation Cup quarter-final second leg, it was about more than just the victory, even though only very few may have realised it.

A greater, and more significant impact rested on the game’s result, one with consequences for all Nigerian clubs.

By making it to the semi final, Enyimba are guaranteed three more points in CAF’s ranking system. Multiplied by CAF’s weighting factor of five, that gives Nigeria 15 points, for a total of 23 ranking points.

As clubs from Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mozambique and Congo are out of the running, those points mean that Nigeria will break into the Top 10 and are guaranteed to have two clubs in each of the 2019/2020 CAF competitions.

However, that only kicks in after next season, when only two clubs will represent Nigeria in each of CAF’s continental competitions.

It is the hefty price to be paid for the consistent poor performances of NPFL clubs in Africa over the last five years.

Between 2012 and 2015, Nigerian clubs failed to pick up a single ranking point from CAF competitions.

In 2016, they picked up eight ranking points which, when combined with a measly 2.5 in 2017, meant a total of 10.5.

That took Nigeria to joint 13th in the overall standings; tied with Ethiopia and outside the top 12 cut-off to guarantee two spots in each competition.

By contrast, the likes of Tunisia, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Morocco, Algeria and South Africa, who made up the top six, garnered 116, 106.5, 90, 84, 82.5 and 78.5 points respectively.

Even Sudan and Zambia, just below them, tallied 53 and 38 points respectively.

Each of those top countries share a common thread; they have picked up ranking points in at least four of the last five seasons of the CAF five-year ranking.

Players of Enyimba pose prior to a CAF Confederation Cup match EPA/Legnan Koula

Nigerian clubs only managed to do so in two of five years.

Guess who picked up those eight points for Nigeria in 2016? Yup, Enyimba, with Rivers United doing the honours in 2017!

It seems it will always fall to Enyimba to pull Nigeria’s chestnut from the proverbial fire, and to their credit, the People’s Elephant almost always rise to the occasion.

On Sunday, they did so again.

For decades, Nigeria struggled to win the CAF Champions League, to the point where the media tagged the trophy ‘elusive’.

Not only did Enyimba win it, but they did so twice.

Since then, no other club has come close, let alone repeat the feat.

Now, with Nigeria needing points to return to the top 10, Enyimba have delivered again.

It’s now up to the other 19 clubs in the NPFL to consolidate; Lobi Stars will represent the country in next year’s Champions League.

The minimum expectation will be to reach the group stage, where finishing last guarantees five ranking points and third guarantees 10.

Failing that, if they drop to the Confederation Cup, then they must reach and make the quarter finals to guarantee those 10 points.

The same applies to whichever team wins the Aiteo Cup and qualifies for the Confederation Cup: the quarter final must be the minimum expectation.

If that happens, those 20 points will translate to 37.5 points, enough to keep Nigeria in the top 10, but it’s not enough to simply qualify for continental competition.

Enyimba cannot continue to bear the responsibility of Nigeria’s continental expectations on their own; it’s time for the rest of the top flight to begin to pull their weight.

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