Enyimba face Raja Casablanca away from home in the second leg of their Caf Confederation Cup semi-final on Wednesday, where they represent Nigeria’s last standing hope to salvage a disappointing year.
As has been the case throughout the People’s Elephant’s continental campaign this season—at least since the group stage—their success in Africa has been about more than just their own fortunes.
Ostensibly, the fortunes of the NPFL’s other teams have been bound up in their own, with Enyimba—the last Nigerian team standing in Caf competitions—responsible for boosting the nation’s ranking points.
Shamefully, for one of Africa’s most successful football nations, biggest countries and strongest economies, Nigeria dropped out of the top 12 for Caf’s club competition rankings this season, meaning that next term, the NPFL will only have one representative in the Champions League and the Confederation Cup.
Can @EnyimbaFC overturn their 1-0 deficit against Raja Casablanca in their CAF Confederation Cup semi-final?@thenff
— Ed Dove (@EddyDove) October 23, 2018
Once they became the only side standing in continental competition, Enyimba became Nigeria’s lone hope for returning to the top 12, they duly obliged—as their domestic football rivals watched on—by reaching the final eight.
Beyond Enyimba saving face for the NPFL as a whole within the context of Africa’s other top-tier leagues, there’s been little else to write home about.
Domestic football has plugged new lows with the crisis between Amaju Pinnick and Chris Giwa ravaging the NFF and prompting attention from both the Nigerian government and FIFA.
It was a miserable episode, the latest chapter in a long-running feud between two men that various stakeholders have failed to curtail.
Even Pinnick’s re-election hasn’t wholly erased the memory of the NFF’s latest—very public—airing of their dirty laundry.
It also hasn’t undone the damage to the local league, where the NPFL was halted prematurely for the first time in decades, with Lobi Stars—leading at the time of the early conclusion—handed a spot in the 2018-19 Caf Champions League.
It was hardly a satisfactory outcome, particularly for the chasing pack—Akwa United, Kano Pillars and defending champions Plateau United—and further dents the reputation and the stature of Nigeria’s top flight.
How will the division pick itself up from such a major hit to its credibility, and how will the momentum of the last two seasons—particularly in light of the Premier League and other European football divisions competing for the NPFL’s primary fanbase—be sustained?
These are questions that can only be answered in the future, but 2018 will surely be remembered as the nadir for domestic football…particularly when it comes to attracting sponsors.
Nigeria’s national teams have also endured tricky years.
The Super Eagles headed to Russia with considerable goodwill and support behind them, but while those snazzy kits will retain their timeless quality, there was little to celebrate about Nigeria’s performances at the World Cup.
The victory over a poor Iceland team showed Nigeria at their exhilarating best for half an hour, but the West Africans demonstrated familiar frailties as they capitulated against an Argentina team who were there for the taking.
The home-based stars may have reached the final of the African Nations Championship, but their own limitations were exposed in a 4-0 humbling by Morocco in Casablanca.
Coach Salisu Yusuf’s ban and fine by the NFF after being filmed taking cash to influence personnel decisions also casts a shadow over the CHAN performance.
The Super Falcons’ stars may fire them to success during the Africa Women Cup of Nations in Ghana next month, but for the Super Eagles’ key performers around the world, the frustration has outweighed the success stories.
Kelechi Iheanacho doesn’t appear to be realising his potential, while Victor Moses’s standing has fallen at Chelsea.
Ahmed Musa may be firing in Saudi Arabia, but his stepping away from European football is a reflection of his success in England, while Henry Onyekuru, Moses Simon, Isaac Success, Tyronne Ebuehi, John Obi Mikel and Shehu Abdullahi have all battled significant problems with injury, fitness or form.
All in all, there aren’t too many elements of Nigerian football who will look back on 2018 with pride and positivity.
That would change, however, if Enyimba could reach a major continental final.
The People’s Elephant’s continental campaign has always been about more than just themselves, but as they look to overturn their 1-0 first-leg deficit at the hands of Raja Casablanca, there’s certainly a weighty national importance to their fortunes.
Could Enyimba yet add a silver lining to Nigerian football’s annus horribilis.